How to praise yourself

Careers  Communication
12 December, 2016

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back – but do it the right way

Usually, during performance review or promotion cycles, it is quite usual to see a spike in people getting into “patting oneself in the back” mode! The frequency of self-congratulatory messages touting recent achievements increases.

Most of us want to make a positive impression and have a need to feel valued. Sometimes, we are insecure about ourselves. And in spite of the old adage that “actions speaker louder than words”, on occasion, achievements can get “lost” in organisations and people feel that they have to put a greater spotlight on their personal contributions.

Generally, though, tooting one’s horn is not viewed that favourably. Most cultures value humility, and showing off is not considered kosher. There are other reasons to dislike bragging as well, such as the fact that too much of it can distort your sense of reality. An inflated ego makes you overestimate your own impact on people and events, and this skewed perception can strain your personal and professional relationships. Plus, always placing yourself in a positive light leads to lower self-awareness, which can cause you to make poor choices and bad decisions.

That said, is all self-praise bad? If done right, can it work in your favour? In my message this week, I want to share some thoughts on how to praise yourself without coming across as conceited.

What can self praise do for you? Quite a bit, actually. If you get it right.

  • Increase your self-esteem:Telling others good things about yourself makes you feel more confident and secure, which enables you to take on new and exciting challenges—which in turn adds to your list of achievements. This virtuous cycle, kickstarted by a bit of good self praise, can add greatly to your success and happiness.
  • Make your accomplishments known:

In a perfect world, our work would always speak for itself-but the world is far from perfect! Holding back the urge to talk about yourself can cost you at work, while allowing your talent to be known can make you more memorable and boost your career.

  • Make you appear more competent:Studies have shown that when accompanied by verifiable evidence, self praise helps people see you as more competent than before. (In the absence of proof, though, your competence actually decreases.)
  • Reveal the real ‘you’:

The moments where you shine the brightest are an integral part of who you are. By hiding these stories, you end up hiding part of yourself. A little bit of self-praise adds to your authenticity and lets you forge deeper relationships with people.

Unfortunately, we tend to err on the side of silence. A LinkedIn survey found that 46 percent of respondents wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about their professional accomplishments, even if they met their dream employer on the street. In Brag: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, author Peggy Klaus explains that although self-promotion is crucial for career growth, many professionals simply find it too difficult: “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, many people simply avoid talking about themselves.”

On the other hand, when we do show off, we often get it wrong—intuition isn’t a great guide when it comes to showing off. Research shows that we overestimate the happiness and underestimate the annoyance of those at the receiving end of our self-praise. It is especially important to recognise this in the age of social media and 24/7 image management, where it’s possible to post online self-praise in a few keystrokes.

In short, the trick to maximising the benefits while minimising the negative impact is to become better at self-praise. So, here are some suggestions on what you could try out and what you should be watchful of:

1. DO tell the story

Don’t share your own opinion about how amazing you are—let the facts do the talking for you. If you want to share something impressive you’ve done, go ahead—simply tell the story as it happened. This makes your listeners more receptive and allows them to draw their own conclusions about you. As Walt Whitman put it, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” It’s also better to focus on actions and numbers (which are tangible), rather than qualities (which aren’t). “I did this” is more impactful and verifiable than “I am this”. For instance, instead of saying, “I am an excellent manager”, demonstrate your effectiveness by saying, “I led the sales team during a growth phase. We increased our revenues by 50 percent in two years.”

2. DO provide new information

Studies have shown that self-praise has a positive effect on your reputation only when new information is revealed. In one study, scientists compared the reactions to two kinds of people posting about their charitable work on Facebook: investment bankers and social workers. Counterintuitively, they found that sharing this news paid off for the investment bankers because they were perceived as selfish and cold. Social workers didn’t receive any benefit because they were already seen as kind and generous—in fact, their motives were questioned when they shared the news. So, if your target audience is already aware of your achievements, skip the self-praise—there’s no positive outcome to be had.

3. DO get a wing-man/wing-woman

If you’re going to an event or social gathering where you’d like to share your achievements, why not take a friend or colleague along? You can work as a team. People are more receptive to your wins if the information comes from a third party, rather than directly from you. This is a great way to go if you feel uncomfortable talking about yourself.

4. DO be honest and funny

You are far more likely to elicit a positive opinion if you have the ability to laugh at yourself. Humour and authenticity act as a counterweight to the self-praise, which helps balance out any potential annoyance amongst your listeners.

What not to do when praising yourself

1. DON’T ‘humblebrag’

A ‘humblebrag’ is a brag cloaked in a complaint or a joke, for example: “Sigh, I was all set to head back home after this conference in London, but just got invited to give a speech in Paris. Living out of a suitcase is such a pain!” Such statements are almost certain to backfire, creating dislike instead of admiration. You may be tempted to disguise your brag as a complaint so as not to come across as smug, but all the research tells us that people hate duplicity even more than smugness. Which means it’s actually better to share your wins in a straightforward manner.

In The Right Way to Brag About Yourself, Francesca Gino explains that the humblebrag isn’t restricted just to social media and casual conversations. Think of that popular interview question: “What is your greatest weakness?” Most candidates tend to respond with a humblebrag about being a perfectionist or a workaholic. Gino and her colleagues conducted research on whether this strategy is effective—it turns out that it isn’t. Humblebraggers are much less likely to get hired than those who open up about their real shortcomings.

2. DON’T bluff

Experts agree that the worst thing one can do is show off when all the evidence points to the contrary. Not only does this have no benefit, it actually damages your reputation. People begin to see you as less credible, less moral and less competent. Resist the urge to embroider the stories and pad the numbers; instead, stick to the plain, unvarnished truth.

3. DON’T compare yourself with others

When highlighting your wins, focus on yourself—rather than claiming how you’re better than others. People prefer the former because you don’t denigrate anyone else in the process. In fact, if you give credit where it’s due along with sharing your own achievements, you come off as competent and a good team player. Also, don’t take credit from others. Do share the praise to give others their fair share.

4. BE sparing

Like with most things in life, do self-praise in moderation. Be judicious about when and how much to praise yourself. There’s no need to tell everyone every single great thing you’ve done. Let certain things unfold on their own, or through other sources of information. Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing—it could turn out to be a self-defeating strategy, causing people to become irritated and see you as self-centred.

Self-praise is tricky. It can back fire or you can appear disingenuous if you do too much or do it the wrong way. And remember the flip side – you should also own up to your mistakes. Have the courage to also admit and say it when you have done something wrong.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts.


  • Sunita Devrani says:

    Thanks Vivek. Another relevant topic handled with ease and making it so relevant. In my view, if you are good and you know it, it will show. It helps to have that quiet confidence about yourself. I understand that in professional world others opinions matter. However you’ve got to have the ability to praise yourself to yourself first. Authentically.


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