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September 17, 2019

The Self-Promotion Trap – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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©©Getty Images/belchonok

Self-promotion is a great tool for building your career, but it can also be damaging if you use it recklessly. So how can you self-promote without falling into the traps?

"You have to give yourself credit. Not too much, because that would be bragging."

Frank McCourt, Irish-American teacher and writer

About This Week's Chat

A few years back, a work associate invited me to attend a meeting at a professional organization.

After the chairperson opened the meeting, it was the deputy chairperson's task to welcome nonmembers and tell us more about the organization's goals.

Fifteen minutes later, we'd heard about two minutes' worth of information about the organization, and 13 minutes about the deputy chairperson and all his achievements.

One of the goals of the meeting was for members to have a platform to promote what they did. Unfortunately, this speaker didn't see the line between tastefully highlighting personal successes, and bragging.

Later that evening, out of curiosity, I looked at his profile on LinkedIn. It was more of the same: he was an expert in everything, a thought leader, the best in his field, internationally sought-after… He exaggerated a lot and, frankly, I found it annoying – and dishonest.

Another Nonexpert

Not too long after that, Sheena, a person I'd known from a previous facilitation job, suggested that we collaborate on a project about handling diversity in the workplace.

I agreed to join in, but it turned out that she wasn't an expert in this field at all. She'd read about it, and had some limited personal exposure to the topic – and that was all. However, she'd concluded that it would "be a breeze" to facilitate.

I was furious that she had the audacity to tell others (me included) that she was an expert. While she understood the basic concepts, her knowledge wasn't nearly good enough to stand in front of a class and take responsibility for teaching others about workplace diversity.

Should We Promote Ourselves?

But don't get me wrong – I'm not saying we shouldn't promote ourselves. Sometimes, you'll be the only person who can speak up for you. If you don't, no one will magically know about your abilities and experience.

We have so many platforms available to us, and we can, and should, use them. Just think of the opportunities to self-promote at work, on social media, and at business events. These are your chances to tell the world about your accomplishments and to advance your career.

I've been given opportunities that I would not have had if I hadn't promoted myself. Of course, you don't want to feel like you're bragging. But self-promotion isn't bragging – there's a big difference. That said, we need to self-promote wisely.

I always give my coachees certain guidelines. One of the most important is to never try to "fake it till you make it," because you can ruin your reputation in a heartbeat. This type of behavior can sometimes get you a long way, it's true. But it can also have a negative effect on your mental health – not to mention the fallout you can suffer if it turns out that you can't really fake it after all!

Also, learn to be sensitive about when and where to promote yourself. It's not OK to parasitize someone else's post, platform or space.

And, perhaps most importantly, always, always, always speak the truth.

The Self-Promotion Trap

During last Friday's #MTtalk we discussed the self-promotion trap. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses: 

Q1. What’s the difference between self-promotion and bragging?

@J_Stephens_CPA Bragging is focusing on what you’re doing. Self-promotion focuses on those you’re sharing with.

@Yolande_MT Bragging = look how smart I am! Self-promotion = here's how I can add value to your organization.

Q2. What are the benefits of self-promotion? 

@vrajshahspeaks New connections, networking with like-minded people, representation of yourself to others, the opportunity to share your thoughts, abilities and experiences; helping others.  

Q3. What emotions do you feel when you think about self-promotion?

@actPRHannah One of my least favorite skills that are necessary for both my careers. I guess nervous would best describe how self-promotion feels. 

@PG_pmp I feel awkward to self-promote my own work/qualities. I feel people should see it without me drawing their attention to it.  

Q4. What are some mistakes people make when promoting themselves?

@GThakore Deviating from the real purpose of it; failing to understand the ground rules/realities.

@lg217 Over self-promoting is a mistake because you are selling too much of yourself on a topic that you might not know as much as you think. It not only hurts you, but those who asked for your help because of your self-promotion.

Q5.  How can you self-promote on social media without being annoying?

@Ganesh_Sabari Master the art of storytelling. 

@Mphete_Kwetli Relate well and be relevant to your audience with what you're sharing.

Q6. What are the risks of "fake it till you make it" behavior in the context of self-promotion? 

@PG_pmp When "fake" is exposed… you may be embarrassed and one may lose respect.

@YEPBusiness Bragging: bad. Enthusiasm: good. It's risky to talk about your global clientele if you can't back it up with global references. Doing something small and locally really well is a stronger position.

Q7. Is it inevitable that your self-promotion means someone else suffers? Why?

@JKatzaman Proper self-promotion raises all boats. When you shine a light on yourself it should reflect well on others.

@MicheleDD_MT Yes. If you self-promote, it means that someone else with as much capability or more is not "seen." As a colleague said to me: get your face out there or others will.

Q8. When should you not self-promote? How do you know?

@hopegovind When you are too tied up to take on any new assignment, and when you do not know enough about a discussion. 

@harrisonia You should NOT self-promote in places your venue prohibits; during a time of tragedy; when you aren't ready to do business.

Q9. Some people feel they remain unnoticed or unappreciated despite their self-promotion. What’s gone wrong? 

@Midgie_MT Perhaps they have not presented the benefits of what they do and only shared the features. Perhaps they have been talking to people who are not really in their target market.

@SizweMoyo The message could have been missed by the target audience: some cultural contexts and, if dealing internationally, times of the day just don't work for would-be clients, and so your promotions go unnoticed. 

Q10. What will you do in the future to self-promote more effectively and appropriately?

@BRAVOMedia1 For me, it is being in alignment and authentically reaching out to those who I can best serve; network and create and nurture new relationships. 

@kkopacz1 Help other people without expecting anything in return. Serve, don’t sell. Let your actions be your "sales pitch."

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.

Coming Up

Have you ever worked with someone who wanted everything done their way, or there’d be trouble? 

In our next #MTtalk, we’re going to discuss the "my way or the highway" attitude. In this week’s Twitter poll we’d like to know why you think people act like that. Please cast your vote here


In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed.

Note: Club and Premium Club members can enjoy instant access to these resources. Nonmembers may find that access to some of them is restricted.

What Is Personal Branding? 

The Dunning-Kruger Effect 

How to Use LinkedIn Effectively 

Professional Networking 

Increasing Your Visibility 

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome 

Maintaining a Positive Online Reputation 

Keeping Your Word at Work 

Five Ways to Build Rapport Online 

How to Manage an Underconfident Person  

Managing People With Low Ambition

Get Ready for Promotion

Career Progression in a Flat Organization 

Managing Overconfident People 

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