Reframing Bragging

I mentioned, quite awhile ago, that I was reading a book called Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. (affil link). I read it quickly a couple of months ago, but then went through it again more carefully.

I’m in the process of starting my own business (more on that tomorrow!), and self-promotion has never been one of my strong suits.  I’m trying to get better so I bought three books from Amazon about self-promotion.  I’ll talk more about Brag in a minute, but first I want to tell you about one of the other books I bought.

Last week, I started Make A Name For Yourself (notice I’m not linking to it).  And I stopped reading on page 28.  Because there, in a list of attributes “prized” in the workplace was the word extroversion.  And introversion was nowhere to be seen.  I kept scanning the short list over and over, thinking I must be missing it.  So I stopped reading it then and there.  The author clearly has a bias against introverts and therefore I can’t rely on her judgment on other statements she makes.  Since I couldn’t bear to throw the book away (and it’s too late to return it), I’ll sell it at a garage sale or donate it.  Don’t buy it or read it.

But back to Brag: It’s excellent!  The author, Peggy Klaus, does a great job of helping her readers understand why self-promotion is important and how to do it in a way that’s authentic for you.   What I really liked is that she’s trying to reframe how we think about “bragging” — in much the same way that I’m trying to reframe how people perceive introverts.  Bragging isn’t an issue with two extremes; there’s a happy middle ground that everyone can find.

There were two concepts that came through loud and clear: Be prepared and be yourself.  Klaus notes that we are never taught how to promote ourselves (so no wonder we often find it difficult) and suggests that bragging is become more of who you are.  It’s about how you talk about yourself.

On more than one occasion, Klaus mentions introverts.  At one point, she says, “Being an introvert won’t get you noticed.” And she’s right!  Since we’re so quiet and often excel in the workplace, we tend to believe that the work we do speaks for itself.  But it doesn’t.  So get over the idea that you can’t promote your self and your skills.

There are a few things you’ll need to do that tend to be more difficult for introverts  — but only if you’re not prepared:

  • Idle chat — Yes, we find it an enormous drain of energy, but in some circumstances it will be necessary.  Know that it’s temporary and think about the fact that it’s a step in moving yourself toward something you want.
  • Networking — Klaus suggests acknowledging the elephant in the room: I don’t know anyone!  Trying to ignore that won’t help the situation.  Be prepared and again, remember that it’s temporary.
  • Take the temperature of the room — Sometimes this can be difficult for introverts.  I know I tend to insulate myself against input when I’m in a potentially overwhelming situation.  I focus on only what’s necessary for the task at hand and automatically filter everything else out.  But that can backfire.  Try to determine if your audience is tired, happy, bored, etc.  That will help frame what you’re going to say.
  • Non-verbal communication — (yours, not your audience’s).  If I had a nickel for every time someone suggested to me that I was bored, angry or distant based on my body language, I would be rich!  Again, because I’m so focused on taking in data, the part of my brain that regulates my body language is just too busy.   I noticed when I did my first video post a few months ago that I rarely smiled while talking.  So — smile, make eye contact, dress the part.

I really can’t recommend this book enough.  There are tons of examples from the author’s clients and a great set of questions to help you create your own “brag bag.”

Any other good tips or resources for self-promotion? Let’s hear ‘em!



Introverts and Body Language

I’m fascinated by the idea of body language.

One reason is because I’m convinced I’m not only bad at reading the body language of others, but I have very little sense of what I’m conveying with my own body language.

Body language is, I think, a tricky area for introverts.  Especially in social situations, when we get overwhelmed, it’s easy to slip into a mode of crossed arms, blank or angry face and other signs that seem to indicate we are unhappy.  Often, it is just that feeling of too much.

I’m Happy – Really!

A couple of years ago, I accompanied my sister on a field trip with my niece’s class.  We had a group of five or six kids with us; I think they were in fourth or fifth grade.  Though I found it a bit overwhelming sometimes, I did have fun.  I told my sister so in an email a day later; she replied that she was convinced I didn’t because I looked unhappy the whole time.  I hadn’t even realized that’s what I was saying with my body language.

Loud and Clear

This weekend, I watched The September Issue, a documentary about Vogue’s legendary phonebook-sized fall issue.  The film followed the process of how the issue gets put together, following equally legendary editor Anna Wintour and other key personnel in the months leading up to the publication of the September issue.

Although I’ve heard of Anna Wintour, I’ve never been a Vogue reader.  Wintour is often cited as the inspiration for the lead character in The Devil Wears Prada.  And although I don’t think my body language reading skills are the best, Wintour’s seemed obvious to me.  In at least half the shots she was in, her arms were crossed.  She alternately looked bored or hostile.  She has a hairstyle that makes it easy to shield her face, and she often wears sunglasses even indoors.

I hesitate to label an introvert from afar; especially someone else’s edited idea of who Anna Wintour is.  But it struck me at some point that Wintour is probably an introvert.

And then I felt guilty, because all I could see from her body language were all the negative words too often associated with introverts.  Quiet.  Aloof.  Uninterested.  Terse.  It is just as easy to say she’s focused, decisive and passionate about what she does.

What are you saying?

I’m trying to be more conscious of my body language.  When I’m out running errands, I try to smile more at people I interact with.  I know I have a tendency sometimes to steel myself for social interactions; either I’m afraid I won’t know what to say or the whole anticipatory anxiety kicks in.  I would almost rather people look at me and see something unremarkable than see negative or unhappy.

Are  you good at reading body language?  Are you conscious of what you’re saying with your own body language?

An Introvert’s Confession

I have a confession to make.  I work alone.  And sometimes I don’t like it.

I work for a very small nonprofit.  I am the only employee.  Eighteen months ago, when I started this job, the board decided to save some money by giving up our rented office space.  So I now work out of my home.

I knew that as I was interviewing for the job.  And, of course, as an introvert, I thought: This is great!  I can be alone and concentrate all day!  No interruptions from people looking to chat! No obligatory back-and-forth at the coffee machine!  And the favorite – I can work in my pajamas!

Well, the pajamas thing gets old pretty fast.  After you’ve done it a few times, it just doesn’t have the cachet it used to have.  But here’s the thing I wasn’t expecting:

I missed the people.

Why?  I do actually like people; well, a few people.  I’m not saying I missed the idle chattiness that introverts generally hate.

But in giving up the chats, you also give up the opportunity to pop into someone’s office and say, “What do you think about this?”  There are no sounding boards or people who are smarter than you to learn from.  I have a fabulous 14-member board.  But for the most part, they all run their own institutions.  If I call them, I need to do that when it’s something really important, not just brainstorming a new idea.

And because humans are basically social animals.  And work is often where you meet friends and establish relationships.  My two best friends are people I met at work.

It’s especially challenging in winter.  Sometimes I don’t leave the house for days, though I’ll be interacting with people on the phone or in email.  But I do start to feel too withdrawn from the world, which was something else I wasn’t really expecting.

It somehow has made me less self-conscious about being an introvert.  In a weird way, because I do like to be around people, I actually feel less alone (if that makes any sense at all).

Is there such a thing as too much solitude for introverts?

Don’t Mistake Introversion For Weakness

Yesterday, someone I don’t know tweeted this:

Don’t mistake introversion for weakness.  That’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

I retweeted it quickly, because it caught my eye.

But then I started to think about it.  About why the statement was true.

To me, weakness implies some sort of character flaw.  That you are unable to hold your own in a relationship or in a business meeting.  That you can be taken advantage of.  That you don’t really have anything useful to offer anyone.  In other words – there is something wrong with you.

Introversion is a preference, not a flaw. I believe the introversion/extroversion preference is genetic; you are born either an introvert or an extrovert.  You may move on the scale as you progress through life, but fundamentally you are one or the other.  Introverts like to think in their heads, extroverts like to think out loud.  Neither one is better than the other; they just are.

For the extrovert who makes this mistake, it means missing out on the rich skills and talents that introverts possess.  For the introvert who makes the mistake about himself, it’s a continued downward spiral of self-doubt and further isolation.

Has an extrovert ever made that mistake about you? What do you think that tweet means?

The Cranky Introvert

Yesterday a friend mentioned my new blog, asking if I was “drawing people out of their shells?”

My response was kind of cranky.  “Who said introverts are in shells that they need to be drawn out of?”  I demanded.  And he should know better; he’s an introvert himself!

I don’t want to be known as the cranky introvert, but …

Phrases like that hurt more than help.  There is an inherent sense of a problem that needs to be solved, a person who needs to be cured.  And I just feel like I’ve reached a point in my life where I can’t let those things go by anymore.

Shortly after this exchange yesterday, I stumbled across the (somewhat old) news that the American Psychiatric Association is proposing a change to the standard manual used for diagnosing mental disorders.  Essentially, “introversion” would be considered a contributing factor in diagnosing certain personality disorders.

That is both infuriating and extremely depressing.  To think that trained professionals would continue to pathologize the behavior of half the population is just incredible.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your behavior is odd, weird or not normal.  And when your friends or co-workers make jokes about “drawing people out of their shells,” you need to push back.  There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert.

End of crankiness.