Talking about your value at work

Talking about yourself at work isn’t easy, especially if you’re from a culture where this might be perceived as boasting, arrogant or self-involved. I’m looking at you, New Zealand!

Long ago, I heard the comedian Oscar Kightley tell a joke that perfectly captures New Zealand’s “tall poppy” culture. Oscar, apologies if I mess up your joke but here goes…

“A distinguished professor is at a ceremony to accept an award for creating a pill that cures not only the common cold but all major diseases. In his speech he talks about his long career and the hard work he put in and he says how proud he is to have made so many people healthy and happy. The audience erupts in applause. A Kiwi turns to the guy next to him and says, ‘He’s a bit up himself, ay!'”

We laugh at the exaggerated story because it pokes fun at our tendency to expect people to be humble even when it’s perfectly justified for them to talk about their achievements. And we know that we don’t want to be the person seen as boastful or with an inflated sense of self-importance. It feels uncomfortable talking about our achievements and avoid it so that we don’t feel the sting of other people’s judgement.

But should this stop you from speaking up? You might think that if someone wants to know about you, they’ll ask. In reality, most people are probably too busy worrying about themselves to notice if you have done something amazing!

It’s up to you to share your story.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to promote and sell yourself, to grow and progress, to make your contribution.

You have value to offer your team, your employers, and your wider community. 

Stop for a second and think of your value – your talents and skills and contribution.

The gremlins that want you to stop you speaking up are strong, but you can outwit them. Here are a few ways to identify (and celebrate) your value:

  • Reflect on past achievements – big and small
  • Re-read references, testimonials and positive feedback
  • Make a list of everything you do that helps others
  • Think of the technical skills you’ve learnt, and the personal attributes and experience you bring to your team, your employer and the wider community

Your value is your currency. It buys you trust, respect, and confidence.

Being shy about your value won’t help you land that new opportunity, dream job or exciting promotion. If you want to be trusted with new responsibilities, you need to be able to share your strengths.

If you don’t speak up, someone else will! They might get that promotion or opportunity – simply because they were willing to speak about themselves. Let people know that you’re keen and willing, or you could risk being overlooked.

Tips for talking about yourself with clarity and confidence

  • If you’re anxious about appearing conceited or arrogant, this is a good sign that you’re not. The fact you don’t want to be seen as selfish shows you’re considering other people’s feelings and contribution.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself: “What’s my intent?” If you intend to make other people feel inferior or envious, then you are being arrogant.
  • Get evidence. Find someone who will be honest with you and ask them if you’re coming across as conceited. And also ask if they think you’re doing enough to let people know what you have to offer.
  • Check your facts. Don’t speak from opinion; be specific. Use facts and figures to draw attention to ways you’ve made a tangible difference.
  • If you don’t say something, people may not know. Talking about yourself is like advertising. If you have a wonderful product but people can only find out about it by chance, you won’t make many sales.
  • Be clear. Give other people the right words to use to advocate for you.
  • Be honest. You know what it’s like to listen to someone downplay their achievements. False modesty is irritating so own your worth.
  • Acknowledge other people in your team. Does this achievement only belong to you or were there people who helped you along the way?
  • Share your journey. Say why you’re proud. Most things that make us feel valued have required hard work. So talk about the challenges you overcame to get to where you are today. It’s the difference between: “I said I would win top salesperson and I did,” and “Getting to this point has been a goal of mine and even though it’s taken a lot of time and hard work I’m proud that I persevered.”
  • Describe your accomplishments in your boss’s words. Saying “the Delivery Manager said my suggestions made a big improvement,” comes across better than “I always come up with the best ideas”.
  • Boast! Sometimes we don’t know how something feels unless we actually do it, so try a full on bragging session – to someone you know, or to yourself. Say everything out loud, in the most arrogant way you can. Then reflect. How did that make you feel and how was it different to clearly and honestly stating your achievements? Taking an extreme view can help you find the right balance.

As with everything, talking about your value gets easier with practice. Over time, the voice in your head that says “what might people think of me?” will be replaced with “what do people need to know about me?”.

Don’t leave it to chance. If you have skills and strengths to offer, then you owe it to yourself (and others!) to share your story.

Some thoughts on “staying sharp”

The 7th habit in Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is ‘Sharpen the Saw’. It’s my favourite chapter in the book.

Sharpen the Saw means “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.”

When life gets busy, self-development and self-care are often the first things to be neglected. But if you’re too busy to look after yourself, then eventually your saw is going to get blunt. Stephen suggests making time to sharpen your saw across the four main areas of your life:

  • Physical
  • Social/Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

I’d like to add a 5th area to this list: Work. In the workplace, feeling ‘blunt’ might mean you aren’t learning or finding opportunities to grow. Or perhaps you’re feeling overworked, under pressure or dissatisfied. Some employers will give you opportunities to sharpen the saw. They might send you on a training course or provide you with a coach or mentor or give you opportunities to develop. But I’d suggest coming up with your own techniques for staying sharp. Here are some ideas:

  • Carve out time for regular learning. For example, ask your colleagues to teach you a new skill or teach yourself online.
  • Attend a MeetUp or networking event. It’s amazing how much you can learn, both from expert speakers and from others in your field of work.
  • Try something new. To stretch your skills you need to try things that you don’t already know how to do.
  • Take care of yourself outside of work, so you can come into the office feeling enthusiastic and ready to learn.

The last point – taking care of yourself outside of work – is often the hardest part. It can be tough to switch off after hours and get the rest your body and mind needs. One thing I’ve found helpful is to find a hobby that’s good at distracting you. I find dance classes are good for me because they require my full concentration – and they’re fun! My husband enjoys making furniture, which is a far cry from his highly technical job as an engineer. (On that note, he’s acutely aware of the benefits of sharp saws – a good blade is safer, it requires less effort to saw, and it’s not going to damage the wood like a dull blade might).

For you, taking care of yourself may mean playing sport, meditation, art, reading, being outdoors or spending time with friends and family. If your job involves working on a computer for much of the day, maybe find something that doesn’t involve a screen. Your spare time belongs to you. It’s not selfish to spend it doing the things you truly enjoy – it’s necessary, so you don’t get blunt. As Stephen Covey says:

“Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other  six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.”

This week, I am going to stay sharp by attending a MeetUp to learn new technical skills, and by taking time out to swim at my favourite beach. What about you?