Yes, You Have to Brag At Work. Here's How to Do It.

August 10, 2016

Some people say you should never brag about yourself.

Those people are wrong.

Fact is, your ability to promote yourself will have a tremendous effect on how successful your career is. That’s not to say you should shamelessly brag, but “tactful self-promotion” – as Kelley School of Business Senior Lecturer Tatiana Kolovou described it in her Lynda.com lesson on the subject – is a critical business skill.

The key is doing it right. And that means doing it in a way that involves the other person, while still positioning yourself in a positive light.

A specific example that shows why self-promotion is important

Still not convinced you need to promote yourself at work? Here’s a specific example Kolovou referenced in her class that illustrates the point.

A few years ago, Kolovou got her dean, Dan, to approve a class trip to Greece for her business students. This required resources from the school, as well as some increased liability, so clearly the dean was looking for real outcomes.

After she got back from the trip, Kolovou ran into the dean in the hallway at their university. He asked her how the trip went, and all she said in return was a three-word answer – “It was great.”

Kolovou regrets that answer, as she should have used that opportunity to “tactfully self-promote.” Specifically, if she had to do it again, Kolovou wished she would have said:

"Thanks for asking, Dan, it was a big success. We made several business visits and we connected with alums in Athens. Our students are well versed on the European Union's economic crisis and Greece's role. We had dozens of hands-on experiences that the students will go on and on about when they talk to recruiters. Although I’m sure you know the importance of teaching our students to have a global mindset since you just got back from Korea. Speaking of that, how was your trip, Dan?"

See how much more effective that is? First off, it is far more interesting than just saying “it was great”, and will likely lead to a compelling conversation with the dean.

Secondly, and far more importantly, Kolovou will need to get funding for the trip to continue year after year. Do you think she’s more likely to get that funding by just saying the original trip was “great,” or instead by giving the answer she wished she would have gave?

Obviously, the latter. Which is precisely why mastering “tactful self-promotion” is critical.

So how do you “tactfully self-promote” effectively?

There’s a right way and a wrong way to brag at work. In her course, Kolovou explained the right way to do it, which involves following these three steps:

1.    Focus on results, instead of title

When networking, if someone asks you what you do or about your job, don’t give them your title and outline your responsibilities. In other words, if someone asks you what you do, don’t say you're a sales manager who runs a team of five people, Kolovou said.

Instead, it’s better to share some results of your job. Using the same example as a sales manager, Kolovou recommends answering the question by saying, “I lead a sales team that scored five national accounts last year.”

2.    Focus on process, instead of job description

When talking about your job at a networking event, along with sharing results, talk about the how of your job, instead of the what.

For example, if someone asks you what you do, don’t list your responsibilities. As in, if you run a marketing team, don’t say you run a team of five enterprise-facing marketers, including one in demand generation, two in content marketing, one who focuses on the web and one who focuses on customer marketing.

Not only does this do nothing to promote yourself, it’s also really boring.

Instead, talk about how you do what you do. For example, say you manage the team by focusing on autonomy, as you believe being hands off allows your people to be more creative, Kolovou said. Or by being data-driven, as data forces discipline.

3.    Loop back to your audience

One of the big reasons people don’t like to promote themselves is they feel like it’ll turn the other person off by making the conversation too much about them. You can avoid exactly that by following this last step.

Whenever you promote yourself, end it by tying it back to the person you are talking with, Kolovou said. So, say you are a manager and are a strong believer in giving your workers autonomy, and you tell the person that philosophy has helped you manage more effectively.

From there, if the person you are talking with is a manager as well, ask them if they also believe in giving their workers autonomy. Or, if the person is an individual contributor, ask them how autonomy has helped them in their career.

By doing this, there’s a good chance you’ll start a meaningful, interesting conversation with the person. Additionally, you’ve effectively promoted yourself, and the person will think highly of you.

The takeaway

Fact is, promoting yourself is a business skill, no different than presenting or managing a difficult employee or accounting. People who do that skill well are going to be more successful than people who don’t.

For that reason, it behooves you to learn how to effectively promote yourself. If you follow the three steps above, not only will it help your own career, but it’ll allow you to do more of the big things you’d love to do in your role.

*Image from H. Michael Karshis, Flickr

To further improve your networking and overall communication skills, click here to watch Kolovou’s full class, Communication Tips.

Some other Lynda.com classes you might be interested in are:

Topics