Is Bragging Always Egotistical?
The tide was going out, but one feisty wave unexpectedly came running up much farther onto the sand. This necessitated a scramble to avoid getting my feet wet. I had this thought: what if waves went back into the ocean and bragged, “Hey, I outran the force of the moon’s gravitational pull, top that!” This was no extraordinary sneaker wave or tsunami; it was just an outlier from the norm—but it was a wave that merited notice.
I don’t know about you, but I was brought up to believe that bragging was an unattractive trait that earned you the label “egotistical” or “narcissistic.” Particularly if you were a girl. Your commendable deed spoke for itself and should be mentioned by others, not you. If your actions went unnoticed, so be it. Your deed’s virtue was sufficient reward. It was only accolades coming from others that mattered, you never threw your own celebration.
This early conditioning has become problematic in my attempts to garner name recognition in advance of the publication of Work Jerks: How to Cope with Difficult Bosses and Colleagues. Tooting my own horn feels ridiculous and swellheaded. Yet, if I want my book to find its way into the hands of those who are on their last nerve because of a work relationship, people need to know my book exists. Sure, that makes sense, but can’t we just talk about the book? Why does my name have to be out there too? Well, I know why, but it feels awkward. And then when the book comes out, I have to ask people to buy it and write reviews. Oh, crikey! My patient publicist must roll her eyes each time I balk at self-promotion. I’m unlikely to be the first publicity-shy author she’s had in her stable.
If you want to draw the attention of those who can positively affect your career, a reluctance to call notice to yourself is similarly limiting. I’ve counseled many clients who were eminently qualified and ready for promotion but were languishing, awaiting a higher-up's awareness of their excellent contributions. The problem is, your fine boss has many priorities and your promotion is probably not one of them. It’s incumbent upon you to share what you’ve done that exceeds the expected and make clear what you want.
(A side note: I’m not speaking to those who let no small victory go unposted and beg for praise at every turn—I’m speaking to the rest of us who are still waiting to be discovered.)
Where’s the line between letting people know your accomplishments and being a braggart? Candace Smith, who writes a business etiquette blog, distinguishes between boasting and claiming credit. A gracious way to have credit bestowed upon you is to congratulate the team without pointing out your vital role (which hopefully is apparent or at least implied). You won’t go wrong praising others for their labors and it contributes to a great work culture. To cast a little sun your way, you could publicly praise the recipient of your efforts, for example, a client or customer with whom you enjoyed working. That you were doing a wonderful job in assisting them should be apparent without you having to say so.
While it’s a good idea to keep a list of your contributions for the annual performance review, if you’d like real-time notice, call attention to your efforts throughout the year. Link these successes to what you want. For example, “Our team did a great job on the enterprise-wide systems installation and I’m glad my efforts were appreciated. I wanted you know that I’d be interested in applying for the next project manager position that comes up.” (It’s like me sneaking in the name of my book for you to buy and review!) If you say nothing and wait to be noticed, you might be waiting a very long time for growth opportunities. That is unless you’re lucky enough to have a manager who excels at mentoring, a function too few organizations expect or reward.
So, if you’re feeling stuck and believe your work is flying under the radar or taken for granted, try claiming credit where it’s due, ask for what you want, and see what happens. I’ll be following that advice right along with you. (BTW, I'd like to throw credit to Lee Strucker for his wonderful cartoon.) Here’s wishing all of us success!