How To Talk About Your Work (Organization, Project, Etc.) Without Bragging

Knight StivenderBlog, Uncategorized

As an editor at The Tennessean several years before joining MP&F, I knew the folks at the firm before I became one of them. Whenever an MP&F executive entered our newsroom – especially a partner wearing a suit, which was the only thing partners wore to the newsroom in those days – we knew the story they were bringing with them would be important, exclusive, top-secret – or all of those things.

Now that I am lucky enough to work at MP&F myself, I understand that beneath my colleagues’ polished presentations are people whose pandemic work-from-home lives are just as chaotic and endless as most everyone else’s, whose tempers can flare and patience can wane with the best of them, and who are doing their best to navigate this time with grace.

In short: Everything I perceived before I worked here holds true and makes me proud. And everything I’ve learned since is grounding and makes me feel at home.

I wanted to describe MP&F as an example of how to talk about an organization or a project transparently and with pride – without feeling as though you’re bragging, selling or preaching to the choir. Many of our clients are working to update owned media strategies for their corporate brands and executive teams, and several are finding it difficult to talk about themselves.

So here are some tips:

Abide by the golden ratio.

For as much time as you spend talking about yourself, double it with regard to talking about others. I just used three paragraphs to talk about MP&F. I’m going to devote at least twice as much space to offering ideas to help you talk about your own company with pride and sincerity.

If you’re proud, say so.

Evidence shows that people are offended by “humble-bragging” or boasting masked as complaints. For example: “Ugh, I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but I have to work all night on this presentation for a big pitch tomorrow morning.” In a shaky economy – or even a great economy – lots of people would be thrilled to be working all night on a big pitch for a new client. If you feel compelled to talk about the pitch deck you’re working on, try this instead: “My colleagues and I are going to be up late putting the finishing touches on a big presentation. This is nerve-racking and also very exciting. Fingers crossed! I’m proud of us!”

Edit yourself.

Whether it’s a blog post, trade publication, newsletter or social media post, question why you’re sharing what you’re sharing. Some details may be interesting to you, but irrelevant or even off-putting to your intended audience. For example, an earlier draft of this post included mentions of specific colleagues of mine. I removed those details because I didn’t want to come across as playing favorites or being cliquey. I also realized that the details behind their inclusion were a little too “inside baseball” for the general B2B audience I’ve intended for this piece.

Show, not tell.

Here are two ways of praising your leader: 

  • “Our CEO is compassionate and strategic.”
  • “Our CEO took a two-month sabbatical to learn about lack of technology access in rural communities.”

One says what you think the CEO is like. One shows who the CEO truly is. Anytime you’re compelled to write a sentence that says nice things about your company or someone in it, try instead to show examples of their behavior. It will help the reader draw their own conclusions about your subject and develop a more authentic connection with it.

Always share the credit.

If a particular person or organization very clearly helped you achieve the specific thing about which you’re showing pride, make sure to mention them. For example, MP&F won a significant, international award in 2018 for work we did with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to fight the opioid epidemic. We definitely took credit for this accomplishment through our social channels, website, etc., but we never mentioned it without mentioning BlueCross. In fact, BlueCross deserved the lion’s share of the credit, and that’s what we made sure to give them. 

But resist the urge to tag others if there’s no obvious, direct tie to your work, or if you don’t have their permission. To some readers, tagging a bunch of folks may come across as pandering. Or it may look as if you’re trying to leverage others’ success and reputations to your own benefit. Let your good work speak for itself. 

Quantify your work.

Good resume writers know to include quantifiable evidence when discussing their achievements. For example: “I helped grow revenue by 30% year over year.” “Under my leadership, the sales team improved a close rate on new leads of 50% to more than 70%.” “Our team dropped the CPA from $50 to an average of less than $35.” Use real numbers when describing your work. Avoid estimates and projections.

Choose your platform wisely.

Consider the context of where you opt to discuss professional (or other) accomplishments. LinkedIn connections expect and want to know when people are promoted, win awards and hire esteemed peers. Facebook friends may expect similar news from a corporate website, but perhaps not a personal page – same for Instagram. A personal or corporate email may be the most intimate and appropriate way to share some types of success stories. Consider who’s on the other end of your news, how they might perceive it, and whether they might share or comment on it.