How to blow your own horn, without embarrassment or apology

Mar 12, 2020 /

Like it or not, self-promotion is one of the best tools for people to get ahead in the workplace. And it can be a particularly important way for women and people from underrepresented groups to make sure that their accomplishments are voiced, known and ultimately recognized.

But for people who aren’t natural self-promoters, this behavior can feel uncomfortable, scary or just plain weird.

For women, one of the reasons that many of us feel so awkward about self-promotion is because talking about our achievements is stigmatized, according to Julia Silva, diversity programs specialist at Google and and Bay Area lead for #IamRemarkable, a Google-led empowerment initiative. “There’s this stereotype that women aren’t supposed to brag about themselves,” she says. “Our role is to be humble and the hard work will pay off.”

Sound familiar?

In fact, some studies have shown that “cultural expectations for women to be modest are often more heavily defended by women than by men,” Silva says. This attitude can do real damage.

“Gender and racial stereotypes can impact our perception about an individual’s competence and ability,” says Silva. People on the receiving end of these biases are actually less likely to get credit for their ideas, are more often interrupted in meetings, and have less influence on their teams, she explains. “It’s important that we flex this self-promotion muscle,” she says, and practice these skills, “because if we don’t, we can fall behind our self-promoting peers.”

As facilitators and ambassadors of #IamRemarkable, Silva and Kanika Raney, who is the global head of equity programs at Google, are working to bust the myths about what self-promotion is and to give people the tools needed to feel more comfortable with speaking openly about their wins. “We’re trying to focus on why it’s important that we self promote,” Silva shares, “because at the end of the day, your accomplishments won’t speak for themselves.”

Like any skill, learning to promote yourself takes practice. Silva and Raney share 5 steps you can take to make it a regular habit.

1. Reframe how you think about self-promotion

Many of us shy away from promoting ourselves because it seems like bragging. But, as Raney puts it, “it’s not bragging if it’s based on facts.” When teaching #IamRemarkable workshops, Silva and Raney confront the awkwardness of self-promotion by clarifying what it actually is: sharing the truth about what you’ve accomplished. “When we reframe it that way, it makes it easier for us,” says Silva.

2. Acknowledge your own biases 

Silva recalls a few years ago when another woman joined her then-male-dominated sales team. “[The new hire] was talking about her past role and how she overachieved on quota and all of these great deals that she closed.” Silva admits, “I distinctly remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh gosh, why is she bragging?’”

Take notice when you judge someone for promoting themselves.Just being aware of it can help you check yourself,” Raney suggests. Ask yourself: ‘Why am I being judgemental? Would I be this judgmental of a man?’”

There’s a study, says Raney, showing that women who self-promote are viewed as less socially attractive, less competent and less hireable than their self-promoting male peers. “When I first started doing this training, that was probably the most shocking thing to me,” she explains, “that women held these thoughts so deeply and were the most judgmental.” Most women have been socialized since we were young to respond negatively when women talk about their successes — but noticing a judgmental thought can be a first step in changing your attitude.

3. Practice saying the things you’re proud of out loud

Raney believes we can make a habit out of self-promotion by practicing with our colleagues, friends or family. “Rehearse your elevator pitch,” she says, “so you can always have two to three accomplishments in your back pocket.” As you practice saying your achievements out loud, Silva adds, “that’s when it’s going to start to sink in and feel more natural to you.”

Silva organizes “Remarkable Wednesday” gatherings with her circle of friends, where they take time once a week to get together and discuss their latest wins. This can work within a team, too. Set aside a regular five-minute period during a team meeting where everyone is invited to share their successes out loud. Raney explains the benefits she’s seen in team meetings: “It’s such a great way to just showcase everyone’s work. It allows for more psychological safety. It makes space for more collaboration.”

If self-promoting is unfamiliar territory for you, you may find it difficult at first to come up with things you’re proud of — relax, this is normal. To start, ask yourself questions to help start the process, including “What have I done that’s remarkable?”; “What project or projects have I recently finished?”; “What’s something that I’m uniquely good at?”; or “When was the last time I felt proud about an accomplishment, and what was it?”

4. Keep track of your achievements

It can be hard to remember all the things you’ve accomplished. “Having your achievements tracked makes it easy for you to go to leadership and say, ‘Here’s everything I’ve done over the last quarter,’” Silva says. This list will come in handy during performance reviews, when asking for a raise or during job interviews. The format doesn’t matter, the point is that you keep a running list of things that you’ve achieved and that you’re proud of.

5. Learn to accept — not deflect — compliments

Getting more comfortable with praises from other people will make you feel more confident praising yourself. “There are times when people give me praise, and I’ll minimize it and say it wasn’t a big deal or that anyone could have done it,” admits Raney.

If you’re the type of person who typically deflects compliments, Raney recommends coming up with a “one-liner that you’re comfortable saying in response.” It could be “Yes, it was quite a challenge” or “I’m excited to have accomplished that.” Or just “Thank you.”

6. Build a culture at work that celebrates self-promotion

While promoting yourself is important, it can be challenging if you don’t work in a place where you feel OK about doing so. When faced with internal resistance or pushback, Raney recommends finding yourself a self-promotion role model.

“Even if it’s not a culture that supports this, there are always people around who do it and do it well,” she explains. “You have to look around and find out who those people are, go to them and say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you’re really good at championing your accomplishments. I would love to get better at it. Have you always been this way? What helped you get there?’”

You can also shift the culture of your workplace by helping other people get their accomplishments heard. If you’re a manager, ask your direct reports at your next meeting: “How would you like your work to be recognized?

Developing a culture of self-promotion can have a ripple effect throughout your organization. “By being more confident and being able to self promote, it’s going to help encourage someone else to do the same,” Silva says. “Because we’re creating the space to say it’s okay for us to be proud of ourselves.”

Watch Brittany Packnett’s TED Talk on confidence now: