How To Talk About Your Skills Without Sounding Like A Show-Off

In the era of the humblebrag, how do you honestly share your successes without being annoying?

How To Talk About Your Skills Without Sounding Like A Show-Off
[Photo: Flickr user Jonas]

Thanks largely to social media, the ubiquitous humblebragging is often the way people show off their successes today. Just take a scroll through your Facebook feed and you’ll find examples everywhere of people talking themselves up. And it’s not just the average person who does it; even the most successful people humblebrag.


Comedian Dane Cook was called out by the New York Times for his humblebragging ways when he tweeted to millions of followers: “Being famous and having a fender bender is weird. You want to be upset but the other drivers just thrilled & giddy that it’s you.” Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer did it when he bemoaned on Twitter in 2012: “They just announced my flight at LaGuardia is number 15 for takeoff. I miss Air Force One!!”

Even Oprah humblebrags when a tweeted photo of her pedicured feet was strategically placed near a wall filled with her face on magazine covers. Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton was guilty of a very similar act when he tweeted a picture of Christmas stockings with the caption, “The stockings still hung . . . ” but was really trying to show off his mantle lined with Emmys.

Why do people humblebrag? Mostly because we know humility is a good characteristic to have, but at the same time, we also know the importance of self-promotion, so humblebragging seems to be the answer.

Unfortunately for humblebraggers, a Harvard Business School study found that observers of humblebragging find the act insincere.

“Humblebragging may constitute a particularly miscalibrated case,” say the researchers. “Humblebraggers experience the positive effect from bragging and the positive feeling that they are not actually bragging, while recipients react negatively to both the self-promotion and the attempt to mask it.”


The study examined more than 300 people and found that examples of humblebragging were least appreciated compared to outright bragging and complaining. The study says: “Faced with the choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be-self-promoters should choose the former,” the researchers write. “And at least reap the rewards of seeming sincere.”

So, how do successful people show off their skills and accomplishments without coming off as pompous and insincere? Below are a few examples to consider:

1. Don’t focus on who you are, but what you did.

Joshua Waldman, bestselling author of the book Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies, says when talking about your accomplishments, “learn to distinguish between something inherent to you (like intelligence, luck, or good looks) and something you did (like hard work, perseverance, and innovation).”

For instance, instead of saying “I’m a bestselling author,” say, “I’ve written a book that’s bestselling.”

2. Talk about your struggle.

When you brag, it often gives off a sense of entitlement, like you’re really saying, “I’m better than you. Things you think are hard are easy for me,” Waldman writes in Career Attraction.


That’s why sharing the struggle you endured while working towards your accomplishment can eliminate the entitled pretense and make you seem more relatable. So instead of saying “I’m a bestselling author,” consider sharing how it wasn’t your brilliant writing that got you this far, but it was the “lots of outreach, phone calls, guest blog posts, and begging my friends to leave Amazon reviews.”

3. Get someone else to brag for you.

What’s better than self-promotion? Getting someone else to do your bragging for you.

In the book Reinventing You, author Dorie Clark suggests bringing a sort of wingwoman or wingman with you to events to “talk you up.” Instead of bragging about your accomplishments, have someone else do it for you, which comes off as more sincere to observers.

4. Tell a story.

The ability to tell a good story can get you far in life, and the same is true when you’re talking about your accomplishments.

Don’t turn people off with a laundry list of how great you are. Instead, perfect the “bragologue,” which leadership coach Peggy Klaus says is the best way to brag without the backlash.


When talking about your interests, ideas, and accomplishments, “bragologues are powerful in getting people to think about you in just the ways you want,” Klaus tells Forbes.

“These pithy and entertaining ‘monologues’ are woven together with a few memorable or impressive nuggets of information called brag bites―pieces of relevant facts, such as clients that you’re working with, how long you’ve been in the industry, or a project you’ve recently completed,” says the author of bestselling book BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.

For better context, here’s an example of bad bragging, according to Klaus: “I’m a great sales manager because I am good with people. At the end of the month, I always get the top numbers.”

Now here is an example of a good bragologue: “You know when I was first hired as a sales manager, I never knew what a great fit it would be for my skills and personality. The job brings together my organizational skills, an ability to bring out the best in people through coaching and mentoring, and years of hands-on industry experience, which helps me really understand what my team is going through.”

Bragging about yourself isn’t something to be embarrassed about. In fact, it’s absolutely vital in your professional life, which is why women, who tend to underestimate their achievements, are encouraged to learn the art of self-promotion. Just remember the next time you talk yourself up that coming off as sincere is essential when highlighting your accomplishments and skills so that they won’t be forgotten.


About the author

Vivian Giang is a business writer of gender conversations, leadership, entrepreneurship, workplace psychology, and whatever else she finds interesting related to work and play. You can find her on Twitter at @vivian_giang.