7 Smart Ways to Toot Your Own Horn at Work—Without Looking Obnoxious
You're quick to sing the praises of your best friend or partner, but can you sing your own praises? Here's how.
Ask your PR team for the right words
I bet you didn’t know you had a PR team, did you? Your PR team includes your partner, mom, best friend, and your favorite former boss or mentor.
These are the folks who absolutely adore you and never miss an opportunity to sing your praises. They know exactly what’s terrific about you personally and professionally and may very well sell you better than you sell yourself.
I recognized the power of my PR team recently when I walked into a local restaurant and saw my realtor. She was sitting with two friends, called me over and made introductions. She went on and on about what a wonderful coach I am, how I’ve helped many clients and how they should get to know me.
You can’t pay for PR like that—that’s the real deal. But you can listen to what your PR team says about you and internalize it. Ask your favorite former (or current) boss, team member, colleague, or friend what they like most about your work and what you have to offer. Record it or write it down. Don’t miss these ways to stand out at work.
Find your strengths outside of work
What are you into? Did you just finish your first marathon? Are you a salsa dancer? Prolific poet? Rock god? What do you like to do when you don’t even think about doing it? I don’t know what that thing is, but you do. Think about the thing you do that gives you the greatest ease and joy. That thing you aren’t paid to do but brings you sheer enjoyment. (Don’t have a side interest? Here’s how to find a hobby you love.)
It can be easier to talk about your interests and hobbies than it is to discuss your work achievements. So gain some experience sharing stories about your interests and your accomplishments outside of work before you talk shop.
It’s a dress rehearsal, a trial run. Once you practice at celebrating personal accomplishments, you’ll be more prepared to talk about professional accomplishments.
Practice the words
On the first slide, I prompted you to ask your PR team for their insights into what makes you terrific. I hope you recorded those conversations.
Now let’s review their comments as if they were describing someone else (not you). What are the themes you notice? What are key strengths? If you were talking about this person (not you), how would you describe her? What do the people who know her well think she’s good at? These are the invisible job skills you might not realize you have.
Now, returning yourself to the exercise—as you look at your career and where you want to go, what important characteristics will help move you forward? What are the top three skills you need to get to that next place? Do these two lists match?
I recently worked with a client who had lost her job and was getting ready to greet her relatives at her brother’s wedding. She was honestly happy that she was downsized from her job of 10 years, and was looking forward to taking the next 6 months to travel and find her dream job. She was well on her path.
But she dreaded conversations with people who would be worried that she isn’t working, anxious for what comes next. So she practiced the four line explanation of a) losing her job, b) why it’s a blessing, c) what she’ll be doing over the next 6 months, and d) how the person could possibly help her find her dream job.
Instead of dreading the conversation, my client flipped the script so that she owned it. Practice telling the story of your skills—how they got you where you are and how they’ll help you get where you want to go. Tell the story you want people to remember.
People want to know why you’re terrific
People are interested in meeting interesting people. Were you a professional tennis player after college? That’s interesting. An singer-songwriter? A closet poet? Do you have a YouTube video that went viral? All of these things are interesting; people want to know that. (Don’t know how to get started? These are the conversation starters that make you instantly interesting.)
People like to know interesting people because it makes them feel more interesting. So when you’re sharing your story, the person you’re sharing it with is actively listening for a reason to be impressed with you. And once they find it, they’ll be singing your praises for you.
Have I mentioned that one of the clients in my coaching practice is a Fulbright Scholar? I know, I was impressed too! Except she forgot to tell me until I pulled it out of her. Now it’s something she’s more able to weave into conversations organically. People want to hire a high-achiever who has earned a Fulbright scholar, no need to keep that a secret.
Your success is everyone’s success
Is there someone you’ve always wanted to work for? For me, it was Martha Stewart. When I began my career as a home economist, she was the best, biggest, and boldest home economist out there. I wanted to learn from her. I wanted to associate myself with her, with her brand.
Have you ever really wanted to work with a certain boss? For a certain company? What was it about that person that inspired you? There was something about them—something they weren’t afraid of people knowing about them—that drew you to them. Think about your own feelings of connection, and keep in mind that people can have those feelings for you as well.
What do people gain from being around you, from working with you? How does associating with you boost their credibility? If you can identify what qualities you have that are impressive to others and gain some comfort with owning them, it will help you to attract people who want to be around you (and sing your praises).
Don’t tell your story, be asked for your story
Once clients have identified what their story is, what they’re good at, and what they want to do more of, we practice a one-liner, a 30-second elevator pitch, and also the longer story. (Here’s how to make your elevator pitch stand out.)
The one liner should be simple and leave the listener wanting more. So when someone asks my clients what they do and they respond with their one liner, the person listening is intrigued. The rest of the time, my client is simply answering questions (which is a much easier, and more well-received way to tell your story than with a monologue).
I have a client who is a mechanical engineer. He also is a PhD who has top-secret clearance who builds submarines for the military. Would you rather meet an engineer? Or the second guy?
It’s all about how you tell the story. Give a delicious appetizer and leave your audience wanting more.
Let your perception become your reality
If you think you’re not good at your job or your job is super boring, you’re probably right. If you think you have an important role and make a significant contribution, you’re also right.
Find your importance and your significance. You can do this by asking yourself the following: What do I do and why do I do it? With every answer you give, ask yourself either question again. Here’s an example, this time I’ll get in the hot seat:
What do I do and why do I do it?
I am a coach who helps clients lead better lives.
Because I think people are capable of great things.
People are capable of greatness. All people. Often, folks get stuck with the shoulds and can’ts, so they duck out of their own capacity.
What do you do?
I help people believe in themselves.
The last line was my whoa moment, it’s when I realized that my work is important and significant. My work is factual, it is what it is. But when I get to the emotion of why I do the work, that’s a powerful thing and it gives me a sense of pride.
Play that game with yourself—asking yourself what you do and why you do it, and keep going until you get somewhere meaningful. Once you realize why you do what you do—your whoa moment—then ask yourself the skills you have that make you great at your job. Keep asking those questions until you get deep into your unique skills and talents. (Use these tips to have more whoa moments at work.)
Then find opportunities to share what you love about your job with people. People want to know why you do what you do and why you love it. People want to be around your greatness, so don’t be afraid to share it.