Professional Development

How to Promote Yourself Without Bragging

Written by Peter Jones

Struggling to find a way to talk yourself up without sounding like you’re bragging or totally showing off? In the era of the Facebook/Twitter humblebrag, this balancing act is more difficult than ever. You want to share your successes, but you also value humility. And you know that being too humble could cost you opportunities, money, connections, jobs. You know self-promotion is key, but you don’t want to go over the top.

The first thing to remember is that modesty is your friend. Think of the people, famous or friends, who have the most amazing stories. Now think if you’ve ever heard them brag. The answer is probably no. How can you find a way to talk about your triumphs in a way that won’t make people hate you, no matter how nice you are? Here are a few sweet tips:

Cultivate wonder.

If you have something to share that really exceeds the normal realms of the mundane, keep in mind that your audience will likely be a little bit in awe of your story. Join in that sense of awe. Beat them to it even. Recognizing the wildness of the wild things that happen to you shows self-awareness and proves to people that you don’t just expect extraordinary things to happen to you on the regular.

Always be grateful.

This dovetails nicely with the wonder. Basically, recognize—publicly and often—how other circumstances and people have helped you realize the success you have. Every accomplishment involves some kind of cooperative effort. Make sure to highlight how you didn’t get where you are alone.

Focus on your deeds.

What matters isn’t who you are—I mean, that does matter, just not for the purpose of sharing your story—but what you do. Speak in terms of actions, not inherent qualities. Don’t say “I’m a rock star.” Say: “My company and I outperformed the competition by means of…” Frame your accomplishments as acts, not just extensions of your awesomeness.

Share your struggle.

Chances are you didn’t land in your success story smiling and fresh as a daisy with not a scratch on you. Whenever you share success, share also the hard work, sweat, and tears that got you to it in the end. Fess up to the times you doubted yourself, the obstacles you faced, and how it wasn’t all that easy to accomplish what you did.

Get someone else to do your bragging.

Better yet, avoid having to brag at all. Find someone in your corner who’s willing to toot your horn for you, so you can stay graciously in the background nodding your head with gratitude and humility.

Make it narrative.

The ability to tell a good story is tantamount to genius in this media-saturated day and age. Turn your success into a whole story—complete with a beginning, middle, and end, plus hardships and obstacles, even perhaps a villain! Humanize yourself and personalize your acts.

Be self-deprecating.

You know that thing your parents told you to stop doing? There is a time and place for the deadpan and honest “Well, actually, it’s not much of a success when you consider…” or the “that’s very kind, but my job is really to do this one part of a bigger picture.” This kind of thing can go a very long way to keeping you from alienating anyone with your braggadocio.

Don’t humblebrag.

Just don’t. It’s neither bragging nor humble. Though, it’s much more like bragging than humility. If something good happens to you, don’t ever couch it as a negative. You’re not fooling anyone.

Always find humor.

You can’t just hide from your achievements. If you’ve made big ones, you’ll have to talk about them. No sense backing yourself into a corner trying not to talk about them. What you can do is use humor. Come up with a couple of jokes that will diffuse the whatever sense your audience might have of you as stuck up and will endear you to the crowd. And the more personal you make your story, the more likely you are to seem like an actual human, rather than an egomaniac. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth!

Keep it brief.

There’s no need to detail every single one of your accomplishments. Let them unfold over time—and only when they’re actually relevant. Leak them out graciously. Fashion your bullet points into a brief “brag bite.” Get in, drop the necessary info, and get out again.

About the author

Peter Jones