Cara was thrilled to hear co-workers raving about a tool she had built, and thanked them for their feedback, only to be shocked when one of them said, “Oh, you built this? I never knew!”
Cara had completed the project a year prior and had received a great praise from her manager. But she realized that beyond her own department, people didn’t know much about her or her work. She brought it up, expecting a promise to be championed more, but instead her manager surprised her, “I champion everyone in our department – but we have twelve people on our team. People out there know we do great work, but nobody bothers to remember who did what. It’s your responsibility to promote yourself if you want to be known.”
The words felt like a kick in the stomach, because while Cara was confident that she could do great work, she didn’t want to be seen as a “self-promoter”. She remembered a meeting she had attended recently where one young woman dominated the conversation pointing out her accomplishments while others rolled their eyes.
Did she have to become that person in order to get credit for her hard work? Thankfully, the answer is no. In our recent group class we discussed obstacles to self-promotion, and came up with some steps to help ensure this situation doesn’t happen to you.
Five steps you can take to promote yourself without being obnoxious:
- Don’t talk about yourself: Although the phrase “self-promotion” seems to be about promoting yourself, it’s not really about you, it’s about your work and what your work does for people.
- Get clear about what you are actually promoting: “You” are a complex person with a lot of valuable skills and talents, but people don’t have the time, energy, or room in their brains to remember very much about you. The one thing they will be most likely to remember about you is how you are useful to them.
- Write a brainstormed list of things you are proud of, and what problems they solve: Then look for patterns. What is the consistent problem you solve over and over again that people appreciate? This is the “one thing” about yourself you should choose to promote.
- When you talk to people, ask them questions that help you understand whether or not they are having the problem you specialize in solving. For example, if you’ve learned that people most appreciate that you can build tools that make their jobs easier, ask questions about where their jobs seem cumbersome.
- Invite people to share their frustration about a problem, by being inquisitive and a good listener. Once you hear of a problem you can solve – then and only then – tell them about what you do and how it might help them. This may sound like you are holding back, but actually you are waiting for the moment when people are paying close attention and will actually remember you. Before this moment, anything you say about yourself or what you do will likely go in one ear and out the other because it is simply not relevant.
The best thing about these steps is that they enable you to brand yourself quite effectively without being seen as a “self-promoter”. This is because you are actively engaged in finding the places where you naturally add value and letting people know about it, which they appreciate, because it will make their jobs easier. And you are NOT taking up unnecessary time in meetings and conversations talking about yourself when it doesn’t serve the topic at hand.
The two biggest issues I have found with people who struggle to brand themselves within their organizations are:
- They confuse “themselves” with “how they can help”. It’s obnoxious to spend a lot of time talking about yourself, but it’s helpful to talk about how you can help, especially if it’s when people actually need that help.
- They can’t “choose” their “one thing” and stick to it. While it’s true that there will always be more you can do to help people than the “one thing” you choose to promote, the “one thing” is easier to remember, which results in more people remembering you and talking to you. Once people start to get to know you better, they will naturally learn all the other things you can do as well. This is a proven principle, but most people have to experience it to trust it.
If you want to promote yourself more, but find yourself procrastinating, there’s a good chance you have an inner conflict where the activities that you’ve decided you need to do to promote yourself don’t line up with your core values.
This was Cara’s main problem. She wanted to be known for her high-quality work and be respected for who she was. The behaviors she observed and assumed she needed to engage in to “self-promote” would not have earned her respect. She hoped her boss would do it for her, and when she found out that wasn’t an option she was stuck until we resolved her inner conflict and found her a way to talk about her work without boasting.
If you are struggling with self-promotion, either within your organization or outside selling your services, feel free to request a complimentary consultation, and we can figure out what is getting in your way and set up a system that feels comfortable, and possibly even enjoyable!