How to properly self-promote

We’re taught that showcasing our accomplishments is “cocky”, but here’s why that’s not true: 

Cockiness is defined by “overconfidence”, meaning that you are speaking above your accomplishments, not about them. While confident behavior builds credibility and trust, cocky behavior diminishes it. 

Owning your accomplishments is NOT cocky and it IS important to do. It serves as a way (sometimes the only way) of bringing your hard-earned work to light. Your accomplishments deserve to be recognized and recalled. If you’re not sharing them, you’re preventing your own success. 

Still, even with this knowledge, most people (especially women) find it uncomfortable to put it into practice. So how do you overcome the socially (or self) imposed pressure and start claiming recognition?

The change starts with your mindset. Whether it’s in line for a promotion or in an interview for your dream job, here are 4 tips to become your own fan and self-promote for success: 

Believe what You Sell

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 9 percent of people trust salespeople because they’re often viewed as cocky or self-interested. When it comes to selling your accomplishments, this inherent bias may make it difficult to trust even your own sales agenda and not feel like a fraud. However, research shows that 70 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lifetime, meaning that the discomfort indicates, not that you’re not a fraud, but that you’re human. 
Salespeople have to be confident in what they are selling before they can convince anyone else of its worth. In other words, own your product (which in this case is you and your accomplishments). 

Convince yourself that you have earned it. Write down what it took to achieve your success. How long did it take to get to where you are now? What steps were involved? What challenges did you have to overcome along the way? Recalling the process will enforce the connection between you and your success, so you can wholeheartedly represent it when the time comes. 
Value what You Sell

You may feel like your impact was small, but everything you do on a team affects someone else’s end result. Reflect on how your work has benefited others. What results did you enable, or conversely: If you hadn’t done your part, how would the results look different? Viewing your own contributions as an asset will reinforce your authentic presentation of their worth and how they made an impact. And when you buy it, others will too. Giving your work visibility helps them trace the impact of your work back to you, and even feel obliged to honor it.

If you need proof of this, consider the Reciprocity Norm; a well-known aspect of psychological game theory that essentially proves that people feel inclined to return favors (think tit for tat). By presenting your work through the lens of how it has helped them, you make them more inclined to value and reward your work in return. 
Sell with Integrity

Warning: If you get carried away, you will start to sweat…or at least come off as cocky or untruthful. That’s a sign that you’ve swerved outside of representing your own value and have therefore transgressed your own value of honesty…aka you’ve lost trust in yourself. 

When this happens, your brain stem triggers autonomic survival functions, such as increased heartbeat and sweating. You can regain control by grabbing the reins and handing them over to your prefrontal region. How? Stick to the facts of the situation. Ask yourself, “What did I specifically do?” Think: What steps, what results, what impact?

When you shift your focus beyond yourself you also combat what’s known as the Spotlight Effect, aka negative attention—bringing that attention outwards.
Sell with Context

Context matters. Giving background around why you were a critical piece to the equation deepens others’ understanding of your role in the situation and the impact of your work. What were the circumstances surrounding your work? What were the implications? And last but certainly not least…who else was involved?

Just as your work makes someone else’s possible, their work makes yours possible too. Give credit where it’s due. Not only does this pay it forward (you’d want others to do the same for you!), but it also balances out the fear or appearance of coming off as cocky and assures others (as well as reminds YOU) that you are not someone who would attempt to steal credit away, but rather claim it where it is well-deserved. 

Special thanks to Elior Moskowitz for her research and editorial contribution to this post.

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