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.
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:
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?
About 18 months ago, I published my first article on LinkedIn. It’s called ‘Something is better than anything’. Since that day I’ve published 17 LinkedIn articles. Some have generated a great response, others have only reached a handful of people. But that’s not what matters – what matters is that I pushed Publish each one of those times.
Every time I click Publish, I put myself ‘out there’ and share my thoughts. And I think you could benefit from doing the same.
Blogging helps you develop your “voice” – who you are, what you stand for, what you’re interested in. It helps people get to know your viewpoint. It’s a perfect platform for introverts – we can do plenty of research, write at home in peace and quiet, and press Publish when we’re ready.
I want you to post on LinkedIn because I want to hear what you have to say. I want to get to know your “voice”, and I want a diverse array of content to read.
Blogging is such an easy way to communicate your ideas, and if you’re on LinkedIn, it’s available to you right now!
I hear people say they want to blog but… English is their second language. But they can’t write. But they have nothing to say. But maybe no one will like it.
None of these reasons should be good enough to stop you. Every blogger I read has improved over time. We all have to start somewhere.
So let’s get started.
Choose a topic
Draw on your own experience in the workplace to pick an interesting topic. You don’t need to be an expert. Think about the things you can’t help but talk about with your colleagues, the things you get excited about. Or you could describe something you’ve tried at work – a new technique, something you’ve done differently.
People learn a lot from other people’s experiments, successes, and failures. In fact, hearing about other people’s challenges is often the best way to get the courage to try something for ourselves. Your journey could have a profound impact on someone’s life, but you will never know unless you share.
Do some research
If you’re thinking about writing, you probably enjoy reading blogs. Look at a few blogs that you like and see what stands out about their structure, tone, and content. Do you enjoy a list of tips, a personal story, a set of learnings, or something else? Perhaps you could use the same “framework”.
Here’s a simple framework you could follow (thanks to Rachel Klaver for the tip):
- Intro – describe why you’re writing about your chosen topic.
- Detail – give some context for your story.
- Learnings – provide three takeaway tips for your readers (bullet points work well).
- Conclusion – refer to your introduction and summarise your key points.
When in doubt, just write
There are hundreds and thousands of articles online with tips on how to be a better writer, but if you’re starting out the best thing you can do is just write. No matter how many articles you read, you’re only going to learn once you start to write.
Set aside some time in a quiet space and write what comes to mind. Remember, a first draft is just that – a first draft. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece; it just has to be a beginning. It’s also a good idea to set a time limit for your first draft (maybe a couple of hours), then leave it for a day and read it with fresh eyes. Don’t spend too long reviewing and editing before you hit publish. Some bloggers I know publish as soon as they hit their time limit, no matter what they’ve written. They say this gives them a sense of urgency and they’ve found that that there are no major consequences if what they’ve written isn’t ‘perfect’.
Practical steps to writing on LinkedIn Pulse
Now that you know why blogging is important, here’s the nuts and bolts for publishing on LinkedIn.
- Click the ‘Write an Article’ link (under your profile details on the homepage).
- Write your article (I usually leave the headline until the end – see below).
- Use the pre-set formatting to break up your story. You can insert images, links, and videos, and also embed podcasts, tweets, and other media.
- Choose a short and specific title that will set the tone for your article. People who follow you and your connections will only see the title in their notifications so try for someting clear and catchy.
- Upload an image at the top of the post (700 x 400 pixels). You can create free images on sites like Canva or Pexels. Remember to only use images you’re entitled to.
- Do a final read through to check spelling, grammar, and flow.
- Click the Publish button. LinkedIn asks you to enter some hashtags to help with searching. Hit Publish again. Once this is done, your post will be live and available to read. This is usually the point I realise I missed a spelling mistake or want to change something! From the homepage click ‘Write an Article’, then top right click ‘More > Articles’. Select Edit, make changes, and click Publish again.
You’ll get LinkedIn notifications each time someone responds to your post. To view stats and interactions, follow these two simple steps:
- Go to your profile page by clicking on your photo/name on the LinkedIn homepage.
- Scroll down to the Posts section. Click View Stats. Clicking on each post shows you the number of views, likes, comments, and shares for that post. Comments are shown at the end of the post and you might need to click ‘Show More’ to see all of them. Here, you can like, reply to, flag, and hide comments.
And that’s it!
Now all you need to do is write your first post. Let me know when it’s published so I can read it 🙂
Humility is a wonderful virtue, but for the next five minutes I invite you to trade it for pride and gratitude.
Take a pen and paper and make a list of all the things you’ve enjoyed and achieved over the last few months/6 months/year. What went well? What made you smile? What boosted your self-esteem?
Write down everything that comes to mind – things that made you feel proud, fulfilled, engaged, or happy. The times you solved a difficult problem, the compliments you received, the people you enjoyed working with, the moments you stepped outside your comfort zone. Don’t stop until you can’t think of anything else.
Now, read your list. Reflect on each moment. Allow yourself to fully enjoy your accomplishments.
Notice how you feel when you focus on the good. Do you feel calm, capable, self-assured?
This exercise isn’t about fuelling the ego or indulging in narcissism. It’s about switching from a scarcity mindset to one of bounty and gratitude.
The scarcity mindset – the feeling of “not enough” – creeps up on all of us from time to time. It’s that nagging feeling that we need to do more, want more, have more, achieve more. It’s a good thing in small doses as it motivates us to strive for our goals. But it’s equally important to be grateful for everything you have right now, at this very moment.
Or, as this quote sums it up ever-so-elegantly:
“Be thankful for what you are now, and keep fighting for what you want to be tomorrow.” [source unknown]
Spring in New Zealand is beautiful. Buds on the trees and blossoms everywhere, tiny lambs and cute ducklings. And rain. This spring has arrived with more than the usual amount of rain.
It got me thinking about life’s “seasons”, the sunny and rainy times. The dull, grey times. The moments of calm and excitement.
Yet, unlike the seasons, in life it’s hard to predict whether sunshine or rain is around the corner. (To be fair, Auckland weather is pretty hard to predict too!)
Sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck in a season you’d rather escape. When this happens, it’s natural to long for sunnier times. You can spend weeks, months, or even years, waiting for change.
Despite your best intentions, sometimes it feels like you’re wading through mud – that life isn’t changing fast enough. That your dreams and aspirations keep eluding you. That you’re not getting the new job, the raise, the changes you want – no matter how hard you try.
You’re not alone. We all get stuck from time to time – it’s inevitable. So, the question should not be ‘how do I avoid the rainy season?’, but ‘how can I cope while I’m waiting for sunshine?’
I want to share several techniques I’ve learned over the years. Some require small shifts in perspective. Others require patience and time. Here is what I know.
Remember that “this too shall pass”
There is much wisdom in this old adage. Tough times won’t last forever – your situation will change. Try to cultivate patience and acceptance of the seasons of your life, while at the same time keeping your heart open to a brighter future.
Good times won’t last forever, either. Enjoy them while you have them. Relish in the special moments that will keep your spirits up when times are hard.
Use tough times as momentum for change
There is no personal growth without challenge. They go hand-in-hand. Use tough times as an opportunity to reflect, take stock, and regroup.
Tough times often help us make tough decisions. When life is mostly good, we sometimes overlook the small things that are niggling us, the quiet voice that says “something’s not right”.
When frustration or sadness is the more dominant emotion – when you can no longer say that “things are mostly okay” – it’s easier to take a clear, hard look at what’s not working in your life. Identify the things that demotivate or drain you, and use this clarity as momentum to try something different.
Do what you can with what you have
To (fully!) embrace this seasons cliché, “sometimes you have to learn to dance in the rain”. If you can’t change your circumstance, then change your attitude. Sometimes your attitude is the only thing you can control.
All situations offer a chance to learn about yourself or others, to practice patience, to build resilience, and to try different paths. Often it is these very challenges that make the sunnier times so sweet.
My last tip is to be ready for change – to create space for it in your life, so when the time comes, you will be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
You may not be where you want to be yet, but you can start to prepare for future opportunities. For example, if you want to move into a different role, you could start researching it online, enrol in a course, or speak to others in the field. Immerse yourself in learning.
I’ve found that when you are learning about something new, it’s very hard to feel stuck – with knowledge comes momentum, no matter how slow.
And remember – it (whatever ‘it’ is for you), will be worth the wait.
Feedback. Does this word make you feel uncomfortable? Perhaps just the thought fills you with dread?
Asking for feedback can be awkward – for both the asker and the askee. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
At the recent Gather Unconference I went to Genny Stevens’ session on giving and receiving feedback. She’s a wonderful speaker and it was great to hear what she had to say. It reinforced some things I already knew, and I also learned a lot.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the session.
Genny shared a new technique for giving feedback called the Feedback Wrap Model.
Forget about the awful feedback sandwich – you know, when you sneak feedback in between two pieces of praise?
“You’re fun to work with, but here’s where you suck, and wow you always wear nice shoes!”
The feedback sandwich feels awkward and inauthentic. The feedback wrap, on the other hand, follows an intentional five-step process. Instead of ‘sandwiching’ the feedback between two insincere comments, it ‘wraps’ the feedback with context, observations, and suggestions. The result? Clear and sincere communication that’s honest without being blunt or inconsiderate.
Giving feedback is actually a good thing; it shows people you’re paying attention and that you care about their progress. Noticing and helping others is a great way for them to notice and help you. Feedback is a two-way street.
Asking for feedback
I believe that it’s even more important to ask for feedback than it is to give it to others. Why? Because we have blindspots about ourselves. We need feedback to know what we’re doing well and what we could improve.
Asking for feedback shows that you’re taking ownership of your work. And the more you practice asking others for their feedback, the easier it will be to cope with unsolicited feedback when it arises.
The main things to remember when asking for feedback are to be specific and to give people ‘permission’ to be honest with you. Instead of asking “Am I doing okay?”, relate your question to a real situation such as “I don’t think I managed that last meeting very well. What do you think I could improve for next time?”. If you want more general feedback you could ask something like “I am keen to develop my skills so I can do better at work. I value your opinion – could you give me a couple of suggestions on what I could do to improve?”
Some good questions to ask in relation to specific situations include:
“Am I on the right track?”
“What can I do to prepare?”
“Which skills would be valuable for me to grow?”
If asking feels uncomfortable, start by actively listening to what others say about or around you. They may be already telling you a lot without directly talking to you.
Coping with feedback
Asking for feedback is one thing; coping with it is something else altogether. It’s hard to receive feedback that’s not entirely positive, especially if the person giving it isn’t sensitive to your feelings. But remember – you don’t need to take on board everything that they say.
I believe a simple ‘thanks’ is enough. That’s it. You don’t need to justify yourself or explain further. Give yourself time to mull over their suggestions, decide if any are useful and then any further actions you’d like to take.
Receiving and responding to feedback is, after all, a personal journey. You get to decide how it shapes your future.
Do you work in Tech? Would you like career advice and coaching? Contact me via this page, sign up for my monthly newsletter for career-related tips and information, or follow me on LinkedIn.
We all want to feel valued. It’s a universal human desire. We hope to be appreciated, acknowledged and accepted in all areas of life, including the workplace.
When we receive praise or recognition, we gain a spring in our step, a burst of confidence, the energy to tackle the next challenge with gusto.
But when we receive criticism or perhaps worse, no feedback at all, it can leave us feeling the opposite – deflated, unheard, unseen, and unappreciated.
Looked at in this light, work can be an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you are on top of the world, the next you’re questioning your worth.
But ask yourself this: who is steering the rollercoaster?
Do you rely on external validation to feel appreciated in your workplace? Is your self-worth dependent on how your boss/colleagues/peers treat you?
If the answer is yes, then your ‘self-worth rollercoaster’ is being steered by events outside of your control. This places your feelings of value in the workplace at the mercy of other people, and this can have a huge impact on your confidence.
It’s time to take hold of the steering wheel. The only person who can determine your true value is YOU.
I believe that feeling valued in the workplace starts from within. Of course other people will play a part in your professional journey – that can’t be helped – but they shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat.
Instead of waiting for your boss or colleagues to acknowledge your efforts, instead try asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I happy with the way I am conducting myself at work?
- In what ways do I feel valuable to my team?
- If I were to ask for feedback, what would be the most likely responses?
- What tasks do others regularly trust me to do?
- What am I already doing better than before?
- What achievements am I proud of?
Regular, honest self-reflection will help you maintain a sense of calm and integrity. It’s important that you value yourself and your efforts, even if no one else appears to have noticed.
The more your self-esteem grows, and you begin to recognise your own value, the less you will rely on external validation. Your confidence will no longer be at the mercy of other people – it will only be at the mercy of your own mindset.
Remember, the only person who can determine your true value is you.
I help people who work in Tech with career advice, coaching and mentoring.
Contact me via this page, sign up for my monthly newsletter for career-related tips and information, or follow me on LinkedIn.
That’s me on the right of the photo. I attended an Outward Bound course last week and this was my very first time rock-climbing. I was really worried about how I would do, and about how I’d look compared to the others. I kept reminding myself that I didn’t have to be the best climber out there, I just had to try. I tried, I got stuff wrong, I kept trying (and failing) and when I eventually got to the top I felt a huge sense of achievement. The experience reminded me about the things that sometimes hold us back when we’re in situations where we’re not sure of the outcome.
One of my favourite quotes is by Olin Miller who said: “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!” How often do you hold yourself back because you’re worried about what other people will think?
Could it be that we’re more afraid of being judged than we are of failure? Could it be that we’re not scared of failing, but we’re scared of what people might say if we fail?
Let me digress for a moment to note the difference between mistakes and failures. A mistake is when we do something wrong even though we know the right way to do it. Failure is when we’re trying something new and we don’t know ahead of time how to make it successful. Where possible we should try to avoid mistakes but in reality there are times this can be hard (such as when we’re under high levels of stress, or we’re tired). Sometimes you are going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. And if you’re trying new things, pushing yourself, or taking action you are almost certainly going to experience failure.
Find peace in the fact that people aren’t judging you as much as you think they are. And even if you do have some critics, do you want to spend your time satisfying them at the expense of your own growth?
Failure is a powerful way to learn. We learn about ourselves, and we learn where we went wrong so we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Failures are not meant to be buried, forgotten – they give us the opportunity to reflect and can be used to help us decide our next steps.
Instead of living in fear of your failures, you could use them to your advantage. Start ‘banking’ your failures – imagine they are sitting in a high-interest savings account of all the things you have learned over the years. You can withdraw these important learnings any time you need them.
It’s natural to try to avoid looking bad in front of others, but try to fight through this fear and allow yourself to take the action you need to make in order to grow. People aren’t actually paying that much attention.
When you do experience failure, be gentle on yourself. Instead of using all of your energy to feel embarrassed or frustrated, use your energy to focus on what you can take from this experience, and what your next step should be. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Remember, you did the best you could with what you knew at the time.
Stop looking at your failures as a bad thing. Start embracing those moments for what they have added to your knowledge, your career, your growth. It’s amazing what can result from this simple shift in perspective.
I help people who work in Tech with career advice, coaching and mentoring. Contact me via this page, sign up for my monthly newsletter for career-related tips and information, or follow me on LinkedIn.