Every day, there are countless opportunities to promote yourself, your product, or how awesome you are at [enter whatever insanely creative side hustle you have going right now]. It’s vital to talk yourself up during pivotal conversations and pitches and you’re probably used to doing a fair amount of it as a self-starter.
The why is simple: to be put in the roles you want, to get the projects, the clients, and the opportunities you desire, you have to figure out how to make people aware of your great performance. You need to be able to talk about your accomplishments in an effective way. You need to, well, brag.
But you can’t tell people outright that you’re the greatest or even that your product is — no one likes a braggart. Introducing the humblebrag — a self-congratulatory slight cloaked in false modesty. It’s a slang term fueled by social media that has caught on so well that Harvard even published a (disapproving) academic paper on it. I know, right?
Is there such thing as a “humble” brag?
Let’s get on the same page about what it means. As Harvard calls it, the humblebrag is “bragging masked by a complaint.” Urban Dictionary defines it as “subtly letting others know about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or ‘woe is me’ gloss.” Doesn’t sound super effective, to be honest.
Take a look at these two Tweets:
why does the mercedes dealership always have fresh baked hot cookies?! don't they understand how mean that is?
— Sommer Terry (@sommer_terry) September 18, 2012
it was right around this date in November when I was 27 years old that i remember looking at a 0 dollar bank balance at the ATM…
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) November 5, 2012
They both mention the individual’s success, but one makes us feel more inspired than the other. What’s the key difference? If it’s just that you can’t resist warm cookies while at the luxury car dealership, most people will have a hard time sympathizing with you. But if your humblebrag touches on real obstacles you’ve had to overcome to earn your success? We’ll cheer to that!
Self-advocacy is an important skill and no one else is going to do it for you. Done right, it can carry you far. You need to know how to brag, but also acknowledge that a bit of humility goes a long way.
The risk of staying silent
The stigma that surrounds the humblebrag (or making any kind of self-congratulatory comment) makes us anxious about speaking up about what we’re good at. As a result, we get passed up for opportunities because we fear sounding conceited. Really, the danger only arises when you’re not sure how to position your success. Making sure your achievements are fairly recognized, without alienating others, is all about walking this narrow line.
When you think about it, though — what poses the bigger risk? It’s easy to end up doing ourselves a disservice by lingering a little too long on the sidelines. Career coach Tara Mohr utters what’s often too true, “we assume, for years, that working hard and getting great results in our job is enough — but we don’t realize that the leaders around us are too busy to notice what we’ve done!”
Bragging the “right” way
If outright self-advocacy feels too aggressive to you, let’s investigate why. Maybe you’re a naturally modest person or feel shy about speaking up about your achievements without directly being asked about them.
Thing to note: Modesty and self-confidence are not mutually-exclusive.
The perils of self-promotion can be very real, but competence is the key difference between being self-confident and being (or coming off as) arrogant. As Sarah Green Carmichael advises the ambitious among us, “Don’t ‘fake it till you make it’ or strive to promote yourself. Instead, work hard. Work well. Be likable.”
“Don’t get ahead, get better.” — Sarah Green Carmichael
The best way to balance a brag — instead of downplaying it with a complaint — is to admit your strengths alongside your flaws. That can increase how competent you’re perceived and people will appreciate your candidness more than if you’d tried to sound faultless.
Mohr suggests, “[don’t] think of self-promotion as pumping yourself up, faking, or striving to prove anything. Instead, it can be more of a centered, honest sharing, and highlighting of what you’ve truly accomplished.”
To get to that way of thinking? Simply start living with this idea — that your works’ visibility is important and something to be mindful of.
From The Muse, we found these four tips for delivering a brag to be especially useful, complete with helpful “say this, not that” blurbs:
- Use the Magic Word “Because”
- Talk About How You Intend to Keep Working Harder (Not Rest on Your Laurels)
- Make it a Conversation, Not a Monologue
- Be Generous — and Be a Cheerleader
Bragging isn’t just about you. It’s about letting others know what value you can provide. It’s about reciprocation. It’s about celebrating successes and opening up yourself for more.
Give people a reason to care and to root for your continued success. Then give them the same in return.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
The best humblebrag reading list (if we do say so ourselves):
- “To Brag or Not: When It Pays, When It Backfires” from Knowledge@Wharton
- “How to Avoid the Instagram Humble Brag: The 7 Rules” from Vogue
- Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig
- Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead by Nancy Ancowitz
- The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt by Russ Harris
Got a topic you want us to dive in on? Suggest a topic by tweet to @GustoHQ!