On Sunday, I was hanging out with some friends, and one of them complimented me: “Wow, Lei, you have lost a lot of weight. You look amazing…” I felt pretty good, since I had been trying to lose the weight I gained from having a second child. However, I immediately replied, “Thanks, but I still have about 10 lbs. to go. It’s been a process, and this last 10 lbs. has been quite stubborn.” Afterwards, I thought, “Why did I say that? Instead of continuing to feel good, I immediately started focusing on what was not working for me, and re-directed the conversation to something less positive.”
I replied in that way out of a sense of humility. It was hard for me to take the compliment and accept the appreciation. Instead, as Asian culture teaches, I was humble and modest. I found what was still missing in myself, and communicated that as an expression of my humility and modesty.
Many of us are too humble at work. As twisted as it sounds, this kind of modest dialogue about our work performance happens often at the office, and it’s to our own detriment. Many of us don’t promote our best image to others for the exact same reason — we are too humble.
Here are three examples:
Example 1: Imagine a senior person (Sarah) in your company complimented you (John) in front of your boss (Kerry). “Kerry, John has been an invaluable member of this project we have been working on. Last week, he solved a tough issue that would have taken us many weeks to figure out.” This is a great compliment.
Now, if you were John, how would you respond? Let’s say the project still has a lot of complications and challenges to overcome. Let’s say you respond like this: “Thanks, Sarah. I’m glad to be part of the team. We still have a long way to go, though. There are still two tough issues we need to overcome, and I’m still trying to figure them out.” What do you think of this response?
Here’s what I think — it’s honest, but too humble. In this scenario, John has been presented with a great opportunity to leave his boss with a positive perception of him, and reinforce his work brand with Sarah. There’s no need for him to bring current realities into his response. It’s a distraction, and it only drags down his work brand if it’s done too often. All he had to do was accept the compliment and acknowledge the team. Something like this would have been good: “Thanks, Sarah. I am glad to be part of the team, and we have been able to work well together to solve tough issues.”
What do you think of that response? While it’s shorter, John graciously accepted the compliment, and he showed that he’s a team player that works well with others. Now his boss will walk away believing that he can solve tough problems as a team member. Does this slight change in his response matter? Absolutely. This response allowed John to build a better reputation for himself without bragging about his accomplishments.
Example 2: Imagine you just worked hard for six months on a project and finally finished successfully. What do you do to communicate this success? Most people would email their boss to let them know. What you say in that email can make a difference to your reputation with your boss. If your boss had not been very involved with this project, this is your opportunity to describe its difficulty, and therefore make its successful completion a bigger accomplishment in his mind.
Let’s say you have done this well without sounding like you are boasting. Are you done? I don’t think so. Now you should find other opportunities to communicate the project’s success. Think about who would be affected by this project and would want to know about its completion. For example, you may have had to ask many people for help to get information to complete this project. If so, send them a ‘thank you’ email, and let them know about its successful completion. They would appreciate the update, and you have just build your own brand. You can also think about copying their bosses if their contribution was significant to your project. This way you are acknowledging others in front of their boss, all while building your own brand.
My point is this: when you have done something great, subtly let everyone know as soon as and as much as possible. Don’t just assume that people will find out. Everyone is busy, and they won’t go out of their way to know about your work if you don’t make the effort. So, make the effort to communicate your success. This does not make you arrogant — it just makes you smart in actively shaping people’s perception of your work.
Example 3: It’s performance review time, and you have to fill out a self-assessment. How should you fill it out? Again, it’s important not to be too humble. Written performance reviews are in your record permanently. You need to provide a balanced review of yourself, while still positioning yourself in the best light possible. This is a big topic in itself, so go to this article to find out more: “How to Write a Good Self Assessment.”
In the end, it’s essential to remember that it’s your job to actively shape the perceptions of others towards you, especially your boss’s. If you don’t do this well and others do it better, they will progress faster than you, even if you are smarter. Remember to be your own best advocate, and don’t be too humble at work. Best wishes to your career success.
Your comments: What do you think of the examples? Which one was the most helpful? Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.
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