Some recent research by Irene Scopelliti and her colleagues should be of real interest. What they found is not only important to those of us who consider ourselves as experts at something for self-protection but also because the social dynamics basis has a lot of human factors to it.
People engage in self-promotional behavior because they want others to hold favorable images of them. Self-promotion, however, entails a tradeoff between conveying one’s positive attributes and being seen as bragging.
Basically, what the research shows is that when we engage in self-promotion, we don’t realize just how obvious we are about it. We think that we are sounding smart and providing valuable information to our audience. But it turns out, the audience can see right through it. They find it quite annoying. And devoid of the value that we think it has.
You might be thinking “Of course, I already knew that. Why are you wasting a blog post to restate the obvious?” But the instructions that they gave to the speakers were not so obvious. They were told to create a profile on a social media site in way that “would make other people interested in meeting you.” So it wasn’t the blatant self-promotion that we see on late night TV. This is something that we are all told to do when creating our LinkedIn profiles or job search cover letters.
The authors recommend that you are better off being modest or even self-deprecating if you want to be liked. But this is the opposite of what many career counselors tell us. So who is right? How do we navigate the delicate balance between putting our best foot forward and avoiding the appearance of self-promotion? I am frequently called on to give career advice as a professional mentor, career consultant, and professor. My usual advice is to tell third person stories. If you show how you helped someone else using an engaging narrative that shows problem solved and benefits earned, you are probably on the right track. And avoid using the strategy of “I can save you millions if you use my proprietary system” without providing any details or evidence that there is any substance behind it.
What do you recommend? If a valued colleague was creating a profile or writing a resume, what advice would you give them regarding how to balance talking about their strengths without coming across as self-promoting?
Please share your wisdom. We can all learn from it.
Image credit: Sage Ross