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Bragging Myths #2 and #3
Myth #2: BRAGGING IS SOMETHING YOU DO
DURING PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
April 5, 2002: I am on a plane bound from New York to San Francisco and the thirty-something guy sitting next to me just blew it: He missed a golden opportunity to sell himself and his company.
We had struck up a conversation and were happily chatting away about living in San Francisco when I asked him, "So what is it that you do?" "I'm a management consultant," he replied. He didn't continue, so I tried to engage him more by asking, "What's your specialty in management consulting?" "Telecommunications," he responded, followed again by dead silence. I took on the exercise of seeing if I could pull out some more information asking, "Who do you do it for?" He named one of the top five management-consulting firms, then stopped cold. I was just about to ask another question when something inside me snapped. I thought to myself, I'm not asking a fourth question. I've done enough digging. He's not making it interesting or fun for me to talk with him.
The first response from many clients hearing about this casual airplane encounter is to rattle off possible reasons why this fellow wasn't more forthcoming. Maybe he was tired, or reluctant to start tooting his own horn on an airplane, afraid that he might divulge sensitive information to prying ears, possibly a competitor's. While sometimes that may be true, in this case we were already having a conversation. So the point is, the road traveled by a lackluster self-promoter is paved with missed opportunities. You need to act like your best self even with strangers on airplanes and even when you don't feel like it. Before you quickly slam shut the book claiming this is exactly the reason you didn't go into sales, consider the following: Mr. Telecommunications didn't know who I was.
I might have been a CTO of a company that could have used his consulting services. I might have been a recruiter who could come in handy one day when he'd gotten axed or one who was currently placing a specialist in the hottest new company in Silicon Valley. He didn't know that, in fact, I am a consultant who works with Fortune 500 firms and could possibly introduce him to an executive of a company that could have become a major new account. He never found out.
I wasn't asking him to reveal the location of the Holy Grail. I was simply asking that he tell me more about himself. If he had engaged me and talked about what he did and got me excited about it, I might have been a good future contact. I might have handed him some business. At the very least, I would have remembered his story.
Myth #3: HUMILITY GETS YOU NOTICED
I've gone to spend a few days with my friend in the hinterlands of western Massachusetts and I find myself in an unlikely place: a tae kwon do class that her five-year-old son is enrolled in. The grand master, a Korean black belt, begins the class by asking the students to recite in unison the five themes by which to live. Lined up in military-style precision, each child exhibiting impeccable posture, they shout:
There it is. That last one. Don't brag about yourself. Stating your value and accomplishments is risky because you might come across as pompous or make other people feel uncomfortable. It's safer and much more appealing to be humble and understated. But will you get ahead?
Humility is a virtue with biblical and spiritual roots that is taught the world over. In some areas of the world, such as Asia, humility is prized much the way we in America prize our freedom of speech. Early on we are taught humility for good reason. We haven't developed the social skills to talk about our accomplishments and ourselves gracefully. Instead, as children we blurt out, "My daddy has lots of money," "I'm better than you because. . ." or in the case of my friend's son, "I have more land than anyone," which he proudly proclaimed one morning between mouthfuls of Cheerios as his mother cringed. Our parents and mentors know it's important to squelch this behavior right from the get-go or people aren't going to like us. And they're right.
But the problem is this: Very few of us ever learn how to reconcile the virtue of humility with the need to promote ourselves in the workplace. When education and training do focus on selling ourselves, we're taught to pay the greatest care and attention to our wardrobe, our hair, our hygiene, our table manners, and our résumé. Get those things right, it's a slam dunk! There's very little instruction on selling ourselves with ease and sincerity. Somehow we think if we personalize our message or get too excited, we are not being professional, when in fact this is exactly what makes us effective self-promoters.
The tug-of-war between showing humility and showcasing our accomplishments is played out daily across working America, even in the brashest of industries. Recently, while conducting a workshop at a major Wall Street investment bank, I asked a group of young men and women to update me on any successes they had experienced since we'd last met when we worked on crafting more compelling sales pitches.
From the back of the room, I overheard one guy encouraging Patty, a twenty-six-year-old, perfectly coiffed junior banker to share her success story. Even though she had just landed a $10 million account, Patty seemed reluctant. With prodding from the whole group, she finally stood up. With her eyes directed toward the floor, her shoulders shaped like an orangutan's, and in a whispery voice that barely rose above the white noise of the conference room, she said:
Oh, well, it's really nothing. It was a team effort. There was this guy who I had read about in the paper, so I wrote him and later called his assistant, who said he wanted to meet with me. I went in and told him about the services of the bank and what we could do for him. He said it sounded interesting and asked where do we go from here? And I said, well, I'll bring the portfolio manager and my senior banker with me and we'll make an appointment. So we went back in two weeks. I led off the meeting, but the senior person did most of the talking, and we got a call yesterday and he's giving us ten million dollars. And then she sat down.
I asked the group for some feedback. The fellow who had initially urged her on was flabbergasted. "Patty, what was that? You heard about this guy, you called him up, you met with him, and he gave you ten million dollars! You told it as if you had nothing to do with it. Quite frankly, you sounded like a wimp."
Patty replied, "Yeah, well, you know, a lot of people helped out. I didn't want to sound like I was bragging and taking all the credit." An Ah-Ha Moment for Patty
Seeing that Patty was missing the point, I encouraged this co-worker to get up and act as though the story had happened to him. He said:
Oh man, I read about this guy in the paper. I got really excited about it. I wrote him a fabulous letter. I called his assistant to set up a meeting with him. On the day of the appointment, I was nervous but we still had a great conversation. I was really on my game that day. And he said, "What's the next step?" And I said, "I'll come back with my boss and portfolio manager. You're going to love them." When we walked in two weeks later, I introduced everyone to set the stage. Then they did their thing. Just yesterday the guy contacted me to give us his ten-million-dollar account. I am so psyched! I nursed this baby from beginning to end.
I asked the group to describe differences between the two versions of the story. The remarks were revealing: "David really owned it. He came across as excited about what happened. But he seemed authentic, too. He didn't come off like he was stretching the truth. You could tell he was really proud of what he had done."
Patty said, "Now that I've seen him do it and people respond so positively, maybe it wouldn't feel as uncomfortable to promote myself in this way." Like so many others I have coached, Patty was learning to overcome the whispers from her past, those similar to my father's, like "You're going to break an arm, patting yourself on the back too much."
Bragging Myths #4 and #5
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