A vice president recently told me that when he acknowledges his employees’ accomplishments, many of them belittle their success with such comments as “Oh, that was no big deal” or “What a fluke.”
Many business professionals negate compliments, often because they don’t want to be perceived as braggarts or as suffering from too big an ego.
Bragging is obnoxious boasting, and is usually done by people who want to let you know how great they think they are. This includes the technique known as “humblebrag” – its practitioners still brag, but try to disguise it as being humble or mildly self-deprecating. This is usually achieved by admitting to a minor flaw while really drawing attention to the big-brag item. (My favorite example: “I am such a klutz. I just spilled wine on my new book contract.”)
Bragging of any kind is not the way to impress colleagues, or bosses. However, I do believe that tactful and appropriate self-promotion is a business skill. Learning when and how to speak well of yourself is a key to getting and staying ahead.
Listed below are 10 ways to toot your own horn, including accepting compliments, without being insufferable:
1. Accept compliments.
When I complimented a vice president on his handwriting, he responded, “Oh, that’s my pen!” When you negate a compliment (like the employees mentioned in the opening paragraph), you are putting yourself down. Instead, simply say “Thank you,” or “Thank you, I appreciate that” – and then shut your mouth.
2. Be visible.
Get involved. Join organizations and volunteer for their committees. Participate in office activities. Volunteer to make presentations. If possible, write articles for your company’s publications. You need to make yourself known.
3. Be prepared.
You may find yourself in situations where you have to tell others about yourself, such as when you are a new member of a group, or during a meeting when everyone in the room introduces him- or herself.
Prepare such a self-introduction, and practice delivering it, so that you will be comfortable speaking about yourself. Keep it simple but positive, such as: “I’m Tom Smith, the new director in sales. John Jones brought me in to start the new field service project. I’m very excited about that, and expect it will take up a lot of my time for a while. But in my spare time, I enjoy being a Big Brother to my little buddy, Freddie.”
4. When asked, do tell.
Someone asks you “How are things at work?” Don’t just say “Fine, thanks,” and move on. This is your opportunity to mention your accomplishments – and express genuine pleasure when you do. When I was asked that question recently, I responded, “I have great news. I was just interviewed by a national business magazine!”
5. Do not use superlatives about your own activities, unless, like Muhammad Ali, you can justify saying “I am the greatest!”.
Simply describe what you did, such as, “Using the new numbers from our field offices, I was able to cut our costs by a quarter.”
6. Use comparisons.
I once coached a manager on how to use her experience preparing for the Boston Marathon as a way to answer questions about how she would prepare for a company’s market expansion. The comparisons were legitimate and helpful to her audience – and, of course, the higher-ups were quite impressed by the fact that she ran a marathon.
7. Enter competition and apply for awards.
Winning awards is a way for people who know you, but especially those who don’t know you, to find out about your talents. It builds your credibility.
8. Weave your accomplishments into conversation, when appropriate.
I sometimes use my experiences to illustrate key teaching points in my classes, and by doing so I highlight my accomplishments. For example, when discussing how important it is to prepare for an overseas assignment, I will mention how I prepared for my trip before I spoke at a ground-breaking women’s seminar in Kuwait.
9. Post your accomplishments on your social media sites.
However, be careful not to mention the same accomplishment over and over. You can overdo it, and this will make you sound like a braggart. Remember, there is a balance: You also must speak of other things, not just about what you do well.
10. Speak well of others, too.
This is a gracious thing to do, and is usually appreciated by the other people involved. Plus, when you praise others’ achievements, your comments about yourself won’t seem out of place. (But don’t praise someone if it isn’t warranted. Others will know, and you will appear phony.)
Additional information on building your career can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw-Hill).