The Art of Bragging Appropriately (and Why It’s Crucial for Today’s Business Professional)

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muscleWhat does it mean to “brag appropriately” in the professional world? And why is this a critical skill for today’s workers?

Few professionals can answer these questions, regardless of their title or prestige. I know this from firsthand experience.

Over the years, I’ve had the honor and privilege to provide career coaching and consulting services to many individuals. I’ve worked with people ranging from entry-level job seekers to executives at Fortune 500 companies such as Merck, Wells Fargo, and Capitol One.

Based on my experience, I’d estimate 99 percent of professionals have never learned the art of bragging appropriately. It’s not really their fault. Most professional development programs offered by organizations are awful at teaching professionals to brag appropriately about themselves. Professionals are rarely taught why this skill matters, much less how to cultivate and use it.

And since most of us haven’t learned to brag appropriately or experienced the benefits of doing so, we don’t even realize it is possible to brag appropriately. To many of us, “brag appropriately” sounds like an oxymoron. All bragging feels off-putting to us, and we consequently steer away from ever doing it.

However, I would argue learning this skill of bragging appropriately should be a priority for all professionals today.

As you probably know, staying at one job throughout your entire career is no longer an option for most. It is vital to be well versed in the art of bragging appropriately, because you never know when you are going to find yourself looking for a new job — or in fear of being laid off.

Plus, the business and job-seeking landscapes largely exist online now. With everyone displaying their portfolios for the world to see, you need to be able to articulate what differentiates you from competitors and how you can bring value to employers.

While bragging appropriately may not feel natural or comfortable, it is a skill you need to develop.

On the bright side, I’ve found that when most people learn the distinction between simple bragging and bragging appropriately, they aren’t so turned off by the concept. They begin to understand the value of it.

How to Brag Appropriately

So, how does one brag appropriately?

There are a few key points to understand about bragging appropriately before we look at an example:

  1. Bragging appropriately requires the use of relevant statistics and information that highlight your value.
  2. Bragging appropriately requires you to effectively communicate your experiences, qualifications, and impact in a way that people can easily understand.
  3. Bragging appropriately requires clear, concise communication.
  4. Bragging appropriately is not only an art form, but an ongoing, evolving process.

For instance, let me tell you a story. In 2017, LinkedIn contacted me based on my branding insights and posted content. The company wanted to hire me as a 1099 contractor to provide consulting on branding strategies to job seekers with premium accounts.

If I were to stop there, you may or may not be impressed, depending on the context and your current needs.

But what if I told you I was 1 of only 35 people LinkedIn chose for this project? Of all 500 million LinkedIn users, the company felt that only 35 of us were qualified for this project — and I was one of them.

It is likely that, upon hearing this, you would be more impressed. You would start to see what sets me apart from others, regardless of whether my particular brand of expertise is relevant to your needs.

I’m using this specific example for a couple reasons. The first is to show a way to brag appropriately that would make a big impression on both your target market and your network. Maybe someone in my network wouldn’t need my services right now, but at the very least they are more likely to remember my specialized skill set. Perhaps they will recommend me to job seekers on LinkedIn in the future.

The second reason I’m using this example is this: If I hadn’t personally learned the skill of bragging appropriately myself, I wouldn’t have asked the project manager at LinkedIn a question like, “How many other providers did you choose for this project?”

I asked this question because I was trying to grasp how competitive of an achievement this was. As an educated guess, there are thousands of people on LinkedIn who provide a similar service. LinkedIn’s choice to select me out of these thousands puts me in a more elite category.

You’ll also note that my appropriate bragging is not based on a personal estimation of how great I am. I am simply sharing facts with you.

Another example: Imagine a professional basketball player selected to play in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game is speaking to a group of people about this accomplishment. Let’s say this is a group of tourists, and the player is trying to convince them to come see a game.

If the player is bragging inappropriately, he might boast about how great at basketball he is. And let’s assume these people don’t know much about basketball; they have never seen him play before. This player has already established credibility in other circles, but in this context, his bragging is likely to be received as off-putting. It probably won’t carry much weight with the group to which he is speaking. These people will likely have no interest in attending the game

Bragging appropriately to this same group of people, on the other hand, would consist primarily of stating facts. Instead of saying how great he is at basketball, the player can share that he was 1 of 24 basketball players chosen by the world’s largest professional basketball association to play in a game viewed by more than 7 million people around the world. Based on these simple facts, the group may actually be interested in attending a game to see this man play.

Can you feel the difference?

Hopefully, these examples illuminate for you the distinction between bragging and bragging appropriately. I also hope you see now how impactful bragging appropriately can be on your professional success.

I believe business professional across the board need to learn the skill of bragging appropriately. If you want to effectively compete in today’s job market, you need to start developing this skill now.

Scott Engler is the author of The Job Inner-View  and Legends of the Recruiting and Career World.  Read his latest, The Problem and the Solution, on his website.

By Scott Engler