Nobody likes a boaster, the kind of person who brags about their connections and drops names at every turn, without giving their claims any kind of substance, using a tenuous connection to make themselves appear more important.
It may be that they drop in a name, followed by a pause to allude to the weight of the relationship; or mention a place, such as an educational institution, exclusive restaurant or holiday destination.
The most ludicrous example I witnessed of this was of a senior University figure asking a first-year student if they’d ever eaten at a particular award-winning eatery. It was clear that this was his way of establishing status and making small talk within his own circles and was at a loss when it came to creating connection with a wider audience.
You should become comfortable with owning your achievements, if they’re relevant to the dialogue and especially if they form part of your skills portfolio.
Endorsements, reviews and testimonials are powerful tools that should support your personal branding mix. Please don’t be afraid to ask for them. If you’ve done a good job, clients are usually more than happy to be asked.
Why do we downplay our accomplishments?
“The word humility comes from the Latin humilitas, which in turn comes from humus, the earth beneath us (Aquinas 1981, II–II, q. 161, a.1).3 So it refers to something that is fundamental within the individual.”
In a desire not to be seen to be bragging, we often go too far the other way and downplay our achievements. Being too humble isn’t helpful when you’re looking to secure opportunities – employers, clients or funders need to understand the value that they will be getting by working with you. They’re not mind-readers!
In some cases, it’s because we’ve been brought up not to be boastful and family members have felt the need to take us down a peg or too. This can be damaging for our career progression.
Sometimes, well-meaning family and friends (out of love and a wish to keep us ‘safe’), try to get us to keep our heads below the parapet or to avoid new, unfamiliar ventures.
My dad is in his 80s. Even when I worked as a Director at a quango in what he knew to be a well-paid job, he simply didn’t ‘get’ what I did for a living. Nor did my switched-on relatives.
Some thought I worked for the Council, others that I worked in translation. So why would I expect them to understand what my business is about? It’s difficult to ignore feedback from the ones we love, but we are seeking validation from the wrong quarter if we do listen too closely.
Our old friend, Imposter Syndrome
“She accepts with equal aplomb success and failure, her excellence and her mediocrity. She does not try to deceive herself with an overflattering appraisal (Richards 1988), but neither does she deny her strengths and values, nor does she underrate herself, because that would be a lie.”
I’ve written many times about imposter syndrome, where people ‘internalise their accomplishments and [have] a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. It’s not bragging if it’s true!
How can you change your approach?
You can’t change what people say to you, but you can change the way you hear their advice. Hear them out, then take a step back and decide whether accepting it would be useful to you.
When you start believing in yourself, you radiate confidence and this is when work starts to flows better.
A great way of putting together your pitch, LinkedIn/CV profile or website introduction is to ask at least one person who has worked with you to review it. A supportive friend who understands your work can help you to distil your offer.
Try it out. Here’s an example of how I work with organisations. You can use the text in bold to help you with your own structure.
“I work with clients who want to develop an engaged and productive workforce by improving their employment practices, because I love to see people thrive. I’m best at facilitating and creating connections and ‘translating’ complex policy and compliance information to develop programmes that make an impact.
I’ve helped clients such as first direct and ITV, as well as smaller organisations, to create social impact and inclusion initiatives and have spoken internationally on this subject, learning and sharing good employment practice from diverse organisations.
Anj Handa is the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers. She helps women to speak up: for themselves, for others and for social issues. Join our movement for positive social change!