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Ah, the dreaded b-word.
Call me bold, call me brash, but this is one b-word I stand firmly behind.
Bragging is an unavoidable career necessity. Yet, it’s developed quite a bad rap—and perhaps for good reason.
After all, no one wants to be one of those people. You know the ones: The people who turn every conversation back to their own greatness. The people who think nothing in the world can compare with their past triumphs. The ones who want everyone to understand just how lucky they are to work in their golden shadow.
Yeah, we’ve all known people like that and they’re horrible.
That’s what most people think of when they hear the word “brag.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Bragging is a delicate art.
Done well, it can give voice to your value and expertise. It can help you establish a powerful professional reputation and elevate your visibility in the workplace.
Done wrong, it can destroy you.
So, what do you need to know about the art of bragging to ensure you’re doing it right and not inadvertently damaging yourself in the process?
A Change of Perspective
Well, for starters, you probably need to change the way you think about it. For most people, the idea of bragging feels dangerous and awkward. After all, weren’t we taught to be humble? And shouldn’t our actions speak louder than words?
These long-held beliefs simply don’t serve us well in today’s competitive work environment. People are busy and if you don’t call attention to your own contributions, they’re likely to go unnoticed.
Here’s a valuable perspective shift: Self-promotion (or “bragging”) is a way of marketing yourself. Think of it like a television or radio commercial for your services in the workplace. Sure, some commercials are annoying—especially when they’re irrelevant, unwanted or heard too often. But some commercials are helpful. They can spark interest, provide valuable information and affirm our buying decisions. That’s why advertisers use them—because they can work when done well.
As a professional, you want people to understand the value of your services. You want them to buy what you’re selling and keep buying more in the future. Commercials are one way to do that. You just want to make sure your commercials are the kind that get people excited and energized about what you do and how you do it—not the kind that make people want to switch the metaphorical channel.
How to Brag the Right Way
I’ll continue to build on this advertising idea as I share a few best practices for self-promoting in the workplace.
1. Focus on Benefits, Not Features
In marketing, they say you should always focus on benefits, not features. For example, if you’re advertising a cool new smart phone, a feature might be the fabulous high-resolution extra wide screen. However, the benefit is that the user doesn’t have to squint or enlarge a picture to see its details. The benefit is that the picture is crystal clear without the user having to do anything. Talking about the benefits helps people understand why the features are awesome.
So, in the workplace, don’t focus on what you do or have done (those things are features). Instead, talk about the benefits. What impact have you had on the organization and the team? What is the tangible value of your work? That’s what people care about most.
Recommended Resource: Key Accomplishments List
2. Timing is Everything
There are certain times when you’re expected to brag. For example, in a job interview or a performance review. These situations require you to speak articulately about yourself and your past achievements.
However, self-promotion doesn’t have to be reserved solely for those occasions. There are plenty of other opportunities to talk yourself up—but you have to use discretion as well. No one wants to watch commercials 24 hours a day. They’re most effective when offered regularly, but not compulsively.
Find opportune times to share a few details about your contributions with organizational leaders. Keep in mind that these conversations are most appropriate when the atmosphere is informal and friendly—like when you’re chatting over a cup of coffee in the breakroom, for example.
When people are focused on other things or under time pressure, they aren’t going to be receptive. Don’t hijack meetings or conversations that have other intended purposes. If necessary to establish credibility, you can drop in a few words about your past accomplishments, but don’t dominate the discussion.
3. Keep It Short
Good commercials are short and sweet. They get the point across quickly and clearly. Your self-promotion should follow the same rules.
Peggy Klaus, author of Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It recommends creating Brag Bites. These are short snippets of information that clearly articulate something valuable you’ve achieved. They shouldn’t be longer than a sentence or two, and you should be able to deliver them in a matter of seconds.
Create a few Brag Bites to keep in your back pocket should the opportunity for self-promotion arise. That way, you won’t find yourself stumbling around and going off on tangents. You’ll be well prepared and laser-focused.
Think of it this way: Imagine you find yourself in the elevator with your CEO and he or she asks, “What have you been up to?” You don’t want to give some vague, uninformative response like, “Oh, you know! Same old, same old.”
What a wasted opportunity that would be. Instead, you want to share a Brag Bite—something that quickly gets the point across that you’re doing amazing things and contributing a lot to the organization. That’s how people develop strong professional reputations.
There’s much more to be said on this topic, but hopefully, I’ve given you a few new ideas to ponder. If nothing else, I encourage you to view bragging not as an ugly display of arrogance but as an important tool for career success. You don’t have to be one of those people who do it badly. You can do it in a way that’s comfortable and positive for everyone involved.
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