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How to self-promote at work without coming off as full of yourself

If you’re attempting to switch departments or get a promotion, this is how to show off—in a good way.

How to self-promote at work without coming off as full of yourself
[Source photo: Rawpixel]

Promoting yourself at work can be difficult and awkward. “Good work speaks for itself,” the adage goes. And while it’s a comforting thought, it’s also wishful thinking.

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The reality is that it’s unrealistic to assume that your boss or colleagues will notice all your skills, talents, and accomplishments without your pointing some of them out. This is especially true when you work remotely, sans the typical visibility that in-person work allows. The unfortunate truth is that too much modesty can hold you back.

People who find promoting themselves uncomfortable have often grown up in families or cultures where complete modesty—even false modesty—was expected. Many women also find sharing their accomplishments more difficult due to social conditioning.

To be sure, no one wants to sound like that obnoxious colleague we all know who constantly toots their own horn. Fortunately, however, there are ways to promote yourself effectively without sounding arrogant. Here’s how to strike the right tone and get more comfortable promoting yourself.

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Understand that self-promotion is not all about you

This notion that self-promotion is not all about you may seem counterintuitive. But it’s not just you who misses out when you don’t highlight your capabilities and achievements. When your boss or colleagues don’t understand your complete set of skills, talents, interests, and achievements, your potential goes under realized. By proactively sharing what you can contribute, you make their lives easier and make it possible for you to deliver greater value to your company. Furthermore, if you lead a team, excessive modesty can be a disadvantage, holding your whole team back.

Tie your successes to the bigger picture

When thinking about what to share and with whom, consider these questions: Why is what I did important? How does it fit into the larger strategic objectives of my department and organization? Other than my direct boss, who else might care about this or benefit from knowing?

Considering the broader view may make it easier for you to appreciate how knowing about your accomplishments could benefit others, and thus reduce your hesitation. By framing your achievements within a broader context, you demonstrate an understanding of the bigger picture. Furthermore, your comments will seem more like a stepping stone to a larger, shared effort rather than a solely self-serving boast.

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Suppose your boss or another colleague would benefit from knowing about what you’ve accomplished. In that case, you might say, “I know you care a lot about this initiative, so I thought you might like to know about a recent success of mine in that area.”

Stick to the facts 

In sharing your accomplishments, focus on outcomes. Like how you might write a résumé’s bullet points, briefly state what you accomplished, or contributed, and the impact or results of your efforts.

Sticking to more objective data versus your interpretation of it can make it more comfortable for you and more compelling for your listeners. It also heads off the possibility that others might disagree with your construct. For example, if you say, “I closed four deals in the last two months,” this is incontrovertible. However, if you say, “I am the best closer on the team,” others might hear it as bravado.

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Don’t undercut yourself

When you do share your accomplishments, fully own them. Avoid the “humblebrag.” Self-deprecation can be mistaken for false humility or make you appear insincere, which can only backfire. Research shows that humblebragging reduces how competent you seem and can make others dislike you.

Additionally, if someone compliments you for an accomplishment, don’t downplay it. You might think that saying, “Oh, it was no big deal” shows humility, but that can be off-putting to others and even reduce your self-confidence over time. Accepting the acknowledgment doesn’t come across as arrogant. A simple “thank you” is all you need to say and hopefully that also allows you to take the commendation to heart.

Lift up others at the same time

In sharing your accomplishments, include others who contributed to the success. Spotlighting the achievements of individuals on your team can be an easy and authentic way to expand visibility. Also, it shows generosity and an appreciation of others, qualities that will attract colleagues to want to work with you.

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Similarly, you might find others making more of a point to acknowledge you, which allows your successes to be seen and heard without your needing to even open your mouth. If you’re friendly with one of your officemates, maybe consider functioning as each other’s “wingman”—someone who sings the other’s praises. This is a natural way to look good without ever seeming self-important.

Open the door

If you lead a team, create a structure for everyone to share their accomplishments. One leader I coached added “success sharing” to the standing agenda of her weekly team meetings. In round-robin fashion, she would ask all of her reports to share recent wins and moments of pride. This structure also allowed her to practice and get comfortable with sharing her own victories.

You can use a similar strategy in your one-on-one’s. In asking your direct reports to share recent accomplishments or moments of pride, you might prompt them to complete this sentence, “If you had been a fly on the wall, you would have seen me . . .” This can allow you to know about some of their work that might have otherwise been invisible to you.

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By creating the expectation and space for team members to share their successes, you’ll raise the quieter, humbler voices on your team and gain greater understanding of the full suite of talents on your team.

Promoting yourself may be uncomfortable, but it’s also often necessary to tout your career and contributions. By recognizing that self-promotion is not just about you, contextualizing your comments, sticking to the facts, and lifting others with you, you will more comfortably and skillfully gain the recognition you merit.


Dina Smith is the owner of Cognitas, a leadership development firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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