My clients love me!
A customer told me I saved his life!
I just had lunch with Popular Jane Entrepreneur, she’s so awesome!
I wasn’t that impressed with Famous Joe Entrepreneur, I would have done this, this, and this!
This is what self-promotion often sounds like online. It’s no wonder introverts often find themselves self-promotion-adverse!
I’ve done some deep thinking over the past few weeks, asking myself: what bothers me so much about posts like these?
It’s not jealousy, envy, or insecurity. It’s not because I want to begrudge others happiness or celebration. And it’s not because I think the person doesn’t deserve the accolade or positive outcome.
It’s because it’s bragging. To brag means “to talk about yourself, your achievements, your family, etc., in a way that shows too much pride.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Darn that pride!
This is something that’s been getting under my skin for a while. And I think the increase in online bragging is partly to blame for why introverts often claim to be “bad” at self-promotion. We avoid it because we mostly see the “me me me” style being modeled, and alternatives more befitting our style are scarce.
I define self-promotion as the act of showing up as your best and highest self. And from that best and highest place, we educate and invite others into what we have to offer, and we facilitate a positive impression of our skills and offering. It’s practically the antithesis of directly drawing attention to how brilliant, clever, or savvy we are (which is how many of us tend to view self-promotional activities).
But as people use social media more and more to share news and information about their businesses, there’s a tendency to slip into some bad habits. Here are a few I’ve witnessed, along with their antidotes. I’m NOT claiming introverts are never guilty of these; anyone can fall into these habits! The point here is that what often is embraced as “self-promotion” is incompatible with how most introverts I know operate. In that spirit, I offer some additional ways to put yourself out there.
Being overly critical of others.
This can include peers, as well as people with more or less experience than us. I had a friend in college who seemed to think he could prove how smart he was by putting others down and critiquing them to pieces. I’ve also seen this play out in a back-handed way: (paraphrasing from a post) “I was chosen because even though others talk about this subject, too, they said I was the best one.” Wow.
The Antidote: Be curious. Be humble. Choose to learn from everyone, even those you don’t admire, respect, or agree with. Share what you appreciate or find interesting about someone’s work, then express your own opinion or viewpoint. This doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them; you might even find their approach disastrous. But remember that it’s a human being you’re talking about, and the Golden Rule applies. It’s easy to cut someone else down, but all it does is make you look small and insecure (the opposite of effective self-promotion, if you ask me!). It’s more challenging – and therefore makes a more positive impression – to showcase your knowledge without diminishing someone else’s.
What it sounds like: “I thought Sally made some really interesting points. In fact, I agree with the idea that we should always be prospecting for new clients. Where I differ is that I’ve had good success with client acquisition by offering a free 15-minute strategy session upon request, rather than sending a sample critique via email or Facebook. I just don’t think that would work with my client base. They really prefer customized solutions.”
Why it works: We acknowledge Sally’s expertise and perspective, while offering an example of a tactic that’s worked for us. It shows that we aren’t just critiquing, but offering some insight our own thought process. We don’t make Sally wrong, we simply share why we disagree. This helps you to be seen as thoughtful, respectful, and tuned-in to your clients and values.
We’ve all heard it. I’m working with so-and-so. So-and-so is my hero! Can’t believe so-and-so is in the house today! Success by association is real, and those who achieve that don’t do it by name dropping and saying, “Look who I’m hanging out with!” It’s a way of riding someone else’s coattails, of assessing your worthiness by how many famous people are in your circle. And as one friend put it, “It can be off-putting, because it’s like someone’s indirectly saying that they know and work with people better than I am. If you work with millionaires and you’re dropping their names, it makes me think you’re not interesting in working with little ol’ me.”
The Antidote: If you want to start to elevate your social standing, stop name dropping the rich, famous and popular and start spreading the word about your friends and colleagues. If those two things are the same thing, that’s great. And if they aren’t, focus on lifting up those around you for no other reason than to shine the light on their goodness. There’s a fine line, though, between selfless and selfish promotion of others. One says, “Everyone should know about this awesome person/product/service,” and the other says, “Look at how generous I am, giving shout-outs to people who need my help!” The people reading your words might not know your internal motivation, but you do.
What it sounds like: “I’m excited for my friend Jane, who just landed her first client! Her new consulting business brings together all of her talents into one awesome package. I should know, I’ve worked with her before!”
Why it works: “The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose.” (attributed to both Hada Bejar and George William Curtis). When we lift up others, we are lifting up ourselves. We’re demonstrating that our heart and ego is open enough for lots of talented, successful people to dwell. We’re not threatened by their success, we’re part of creating it. This in turn perpetuates our own success. By promoting Jane in this way, you’re more likely to be seen as collaborative, credible, and confident.
This is stealth bragging. After all, he bragged, so I can brag! This is when you piggyback on someone else’s brag (or even a happy announcement that’s not braggy) with an “Oh my gosh, there must be something in the air! I got a bouquet of flowers from my favorite customer, too!” I mean, he opened the door! Maybe, but only for others to validate his win, not for others to “me, too!” or try to one-up him.
The Antidote: Just.Don’t.Do.It. Someone else bragging isn’t an invitation to brag yourself. Let the person celebrate the win without comparing or contrasting it to your own or someone else’s. If you feel like the person is bragging and you don’t want to feed the ego machine, then don’t comment. Only comment if you can do so from a place of genuine happiness for the good news.
What it sounds like: “Congrats! That’s terrific.” or “I know you worked hard for that. Way to go!”
Why it works: You’re acknowledging the other person without making it about you. Think about how you’d feel if you shared an accomplishment or exciting announcement, and everyone started posting about how they, too, had done the same thing! By not elbowing into the spotlight, you come across as someone who can be genuinely happy for others. It shows that you don’t see her win as your loss… so much more attractive than “Me, too!”-ing.
[True Confession: I thought of this form of bragging because, eh hem, I’ve been guilty of it. I did it today, as a matter of fact. Yuck. I’m sure I had some weird justification in mind, but I had a tiny niggling feeling in my gut that said, “This feels slightly icky.” I should have listened to my gut. The other person responded graciously, but that doesn’t make it right. Lesson learned.]
Bragging about yourself.
This is the form of bragging that triggered this post in the first place: “Feeling so happy, my client/customer/friend/peer just told me I’m so awesome!” It’s great to feel good about yourself and bask in the glow of positive feedback. Yay you! And when you post that online, and you get a bunch of likes and comments, it just validates it over and over. More yay! And the rest of us are left wondering what you’re so insecure about, that you can’t privately accept praise and let it bolster your confidence and trust in your abilities (both of which help you to show up as your best and highest self, the ultimate self-promotion!).
The Antidote: Show, don’t tell. Keep the focus on your client’s successes. When your clients or customers win, or your product is flying off the shelves, that demonstrates something about you without you having to say it. Let the results speak for themselves. Success stories, along with recommendations from satisfied colleagues (let others brag on your behalf!), speak volumes about your skill.
Another way to approach it: as an expression of gratitude for the support you’ve received or the opportunity to work on something really satisfying and meaningful. This shouldn’t look like false humility (again, you know the difference, even if others don’t). It can be a heartfelt celebration about something that’s making you happy.
What it sounds like: “I’m so thrilled for one of my coaching clients… she’s made the commitment to take the trip to Paris that she’s been talking about for years. It’s awesome to see her taking the first step in creating the life she really wants.” Or, “I’ve worked hard over the past few years to create this new product, and it’s finally happened! So grateful to my friends who’ve believed in me all this time. Thanks.”
Why it’s better: This first type of “bragging” accomplishes a few things. It keeps the focus on the results. It says what you do. It gives us a hint about the kind of people you work with. And it shows that you’re a good coach (or teacher/mentor/consultant/friend/etc) because someone you are working with is succeeding in her goals. You’re facilitating her success; you’re not the reason for it.
The second type, the one based in gratitude, both announces what you’re proud of while reminding yourself and others that no one is an island (much as that might appeal to us introverts!). We’re acknowledging our hard work while recognizing others. Win-Win.
It’s essential to have a healthy sense of self. We all have a fundamental need to be seen and heard. And if we want to succeed in business, people have to know about the good work we’re doing.
Effective self-promotion comes from a healthy place of self-love and service, rather than from fear. When we’re triggered by someone else tooting their own horn, we learn at least one of two things: the other person might be operating from fear, and/or we’re being called to examine what it means for us to toot our own horn in a way that feels authentic.
Not everyone reading this will agree with me that the bragging methods I highlight are bad form, annoying, or inappropriate. That’s okay. My goal is to shine the light on the range of ways people engage in self-promotion and encourage us all to notice our personal motivations, and share our work from our best and highest selves.
What’s been your experience? Have you witnessed – or been guilty of – any of these types of self-promotion? When have you seen someone do it really well, with ease and grace (and it’s been you, do tell!)? Please share in the comments!