My old boss at Apple would always tell me to speak up about my accomplishments, because in the corporate world, no one is going to do it for you (they’d rather change the narrative to show how they played the primary role). His observation, sadly, is usually correct, which is why I started acting on his advice. The only problem was, he didn’t tell me how to talk about my accomplishments without sounding arrogant. And if there’s one type of person people loathe more than any other, it’s blatant braggarts.
“Bragging, whether in the form of self-promotion or through humblebrag, often backfires. But people do not seem to understand this is the case,” says Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and Harvard Business School professor, and author of Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life. “Braggarts overestimate how much their bragging makes others see them positively, and they underestimate how much it triggers negative reactions and emotions.”
It’s because of this misunderstanding, according to Gino, that bragging often has the opposite of our intended effect. This leads others to view us not as superstars, as we would wish, but as arrogant, modesty-lacking show-offs.
But my boss at Apple was right: You shouldn’t be afraid to talk up your accomplishments. You just need to do so in the right way. And for that, there are just two simple do’s and two don’ts you need to remember, says Gino.
Do: Talk About Your Accomplishments By Focusing On How They Made You Genuinely Feel
If you’ve ever heard a loved one talking about how good it made him feel to accomplish something, whether that’s writing a book or meeting a sales goal, you probably connected more with his feelings for the achievement versus the achievement itself. These feelings, after all, are something you can identify with. We’ve all experienced happiness or a sense of accomplishment, whether or not we’ve ever written a book or met a sales goal. What you probably didn’t notice–and he may not have either–was in relating his story to you in this emotive way, he was bragging. But he was doing it without sounding arrogant at all.
“People won’t fault you for feeling proud and happy about something you achieved, thanks to persistence and effort,” says Gino. By conveying their accompaniments in this way, the bragger triggers the good feelings we’ve previously experienced, reminding us of how good it feels to have accomplished something.
Do: Mention A Conversation In Which You Received A Praise For Something The Person Who Complimented You Had Evidence For
Gino says bragging often gets us in trouble because of two main reasons. The first is that the claims we make about our accomplishments are often hard to verify. And the second is our culture expects people to be modest, so by bragging you’re likely violating social norms. But Gino says you can kill both concerns with one stone by simply quoting another person’s conversation in which they praised you. “This way, the focus is not on you but on the other person, who has said something positive to you,” says Gino. Just be sure to provide enough information to make the listener come to the conclusion that the comment you received is true or at least plausible.
“For instance, if you were to relay a comment made about your excellent writing or attention to detail to your colleague, when your colleague has just finished reading a report you wrote, your colleague won’t doubt whether your claim is true,” says Gino. “He or she will be able to tell given the report.”
Don’t: Cover Up Your Bragging With False Modesty
A humblebrag is any brag hidden with a complaint. You know, a brag like this: “I really admire that you can operate your rowboat all by yourself. My yacht takes a crew of 20 just to get it out of the harbor.” You may think you’re coming off as modest and clever, while at the same time letting people know how great you are–but really, the only view people take away about you is that of someone who is obnoxious.
“People will see through your insincerity and indirect approach,” Gino warns. “If you have something to brag about, it is better to be straightforward rather than trying to cover up the brag with some fake modesty.”
Don’t: Add A Disclaimer
Finally, don’t add a disclaimer to your brags. Disclaimers are things like, “I shouldn’t brag, but . . . ” or “I know I shouldn’t say this . . . ” If you really “know” this, then you wouldn’t do it. Continuing to brag after you’ve made the disclaimer shows your audience your top priority is, in fact, bragging about yourself.
“Your disclaimer will just make it clear to the person who is listening that you know you’re violating the social norm of modesty,” says Gino. “In fact, it is not that different from saying something like, ‘I cheated on the exam, even though I knew it was wrong to cheat.’
In other words, like the humblebrag, the disclaimer can make your brag worse rather than more acceptable, says Gino.
“If you simply said, ‘I won the award for best employee of the month, and I’m so happy,’ people will code your statement as a genuine expression of your well-deserved satisfaction with your accomplishment,” advises Gino. “Even colleagues who dislike you may find themselves thinking, ‘I am happy for you. Well done.'”