I was coaching someone who almost gagged when we got to talking about the ‘what are your strengths?’ question.. they really struggle to say that they are good at anything. In spite of some really significant achievements and accomplishments.  As we unpicked this reticence I discovered a deep fear of being seen as a boast or braggart.

This set me thinking and I did some research into the subject of boasting; why are we so averse to blowing our own trumpet? (or tooting as the Americans call it.. divided by a common language!) There is a strong religious element to this; major religions –Islam, more about Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity all value humility and consider boasting a vice. As the Bible puts it ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’. I think there is an element of social control in the culture of  disapproval of the person who is self congratulatory. Our rulers prefer a bit of submission and self deprecation, those who know their own rights and value may be less submissive. Our parents were often quick to condemn the show off or sing one’s own praises. It is considered impolite to draw too much attention to ourselves, after all ‘children should be seen and not heard’ is still a value instilled into people when they are young.  ‘Pride’ we were told ‘comes before a fall’.

But there is also an issue of emotional  intelligence attached to talking too much about oneself or one’s achievements. It is a narcissistic and inconsiderate behavioural trait that tends to alienate others. The dictionary defines boasting as ‘to talk with excessive pride and self satisfaction about one’s abilities or possessions’ and lists a whole selection of pejorative adjectives as synonyms. When we boast we are often saying ‘look I am better than you’ and that does not endear us to others.  But the drive to tell everyone how great we are comes more often from a real lack of self esteem. People stroke their own ego in order to convince themselves of their own self worth. As one modern dictionary put it:

“Boasting is someone attempting to hide their dumbassness by repeatedly lauding their one and only (generally small) victory to their friends or a random crowd of strangers, depending on who is handy.”

So: no –one likes a braggart and boasting can reveal a real lack of confidence –where  does that leave interviewees and ambitious careerists?  with a problem? In the modern world it is critical to build a brand, to have strong networks who promote you. As Margie Warrell puts it

The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” no longer holds true. Nowadays, it’s “who knows what you know.”


If in the interview you do not put forward your accomplishments then you will never get the job. Lack of enthusiasm, hesitancy and lack of confidence in your own abilities are key reasons people get turned down by interviewers. So what is the solution? Here are some tips for interviews and networking to help you promote yourself without  being annoying.

  • Don’t promote yourself but promote your value. Reframe your experience and expertise in terms of the value that you have to contribute. Describe how you could solve a problem or overcome and obstacle and describe it in terms of how you would work with others to do so.
  • Tell a story. Human beings are conditioned to like stories ad there is nothing so powerful  as a well told story (using STAR) that shows your enthusiasm and your skills. You don’t need to tell people that you are really good at something if you just describe an occasion when you have excelled with that skill.
  • Be relevant. Don’t jump into a conversation announcing your greatest triumph but listen to others and when an occasion arises tell others factually what you have achieved. Keep your story relevant to the conversation.
  • Tell it once. Part of the reason that people dislike braggarts is that they go on and on about their achievements (or those of their grandchildren)  and don’t know when to shut up. So tell your story once and then move on to ask others about their experience. Or in an interview, wait for the next question.
  • Don’t use hyperbole. People who boast tend to over dramatize their stories, keep it factual and keep it to the point. Try not to use emotive language or exaggerate the difficulties that you overcame. Be realistic about achievements.
  • Share the glory. Make it clear that although you have used first person singular , you could not have achieved this without the help and hard work of other team members. When networking give others their due praise and credit. Promote them and in return they will promote you.
  • When asked about strengths you do not have to say that you are the best compared to others,   tell them what you think you do best. That is what the questions is asking about. What are your strengths? not  ‘what are you better than anyone else at?’. Your don’t have to say “I’m really good at…”, say “what I do best..” Everyone has things they feel most comfortable doing or most at ease doing.  Find a way to express those things that you feel comfortable and confident using and practice it.
  • Never steal the credit from others when it is not due to you. You never know who or what the other person actually knows.
  • Express empathy with others. Always give the interviewer time to talk, finish their question and be sensitive to them.

Share your good news with those you trust but share your emotional intelligence with everyone. Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter give us a channel to share everything with everyone but need to be used sensitively ‘wow I got a huge raise’ is not going to go down well with people in your network that are hard up and struggling, especially if they think they deserve it more than you do. So watch what you say and where  you say it but don’t hide your light under a bushel. Follow these tips, promote yourself appropriately and promote others equally.

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owlWise- how to be wise…

In spite of the fact that this word is worth a measly 7 scrabble points, more about I rather  like this word. The dictionary meaning is having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing discernment, judgment, or discretion.

So how does one become wise?

Age apparently has nothing to do with it…between ages 25 to 75, the correlation between age and wisdom is zero. Further research shows that intelligence only accounts for about 2% of the variance in wisdom. Wisdom emerges not from experience itself, but rather from reflecting thoughtfully on the lessons gained from experience.

See the world in shades of grey, not black and white – wise people are capable of integrative thinking “the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads”—and reconcile them for the situation at hand.

Balance self-interest and the common good. A second defining quality of wisdom is the ability to look beyond our personal desires. As one psychologist puts it: “wisdom and egocentricity are incompatible… people who have gotten where they are by not taking other people’s interests into account or even by actively thwarting the interests of others… would not be viewed as wise.” It’s neither healthy nor productive to be extremely altruistic or extremely selfish. They find ways to benefit others that also advance their own objectives.

Challenge the status quo. Wise people are willing to question rules. Instead of accepting things as they have always been, wisdom involves asking whether there’s a better path.

Aim to understand, rather than judge. Wise people resist the impulse to judge, operating more like detectives whose goal is to explain other people’s behaviours. This yields an advantage in predicting others’ actions, enabling wise people to offer better advice to others and make better choices themselves.

Focus on purpose over pleasure. Wise people weren’t any happier than their peers. They didn’t experience more positive emotions, perhaps because wisdom requires critical self-reflection and a long-term view. They recognized that just as today’s cloud can have a silver lining tomorrow, tomorrow’s silver lining can become next month’s suffering. However, there was a clear psychological benefit of wisdom: a stronger sense of purpose in life. From time to time, wisdom may involve putting what makes us happy on the back burner in our quest for meaning and significance.

Wisdom is  a virtue according to every great philosophical and religious tradition, from Aristotle to Confucius and Christianity to Judaism, Islam to Buddhism, and Taoism to Hinduism. According to the book From Smart to Wise, wisdom distinguishes great leaders from the rest of the pack.  So maybe practising your wise muscles could be a winning formula!

I think a wise person seeks out experts and ensures that they have a counsellor to bounce ideas off, someone who can help them see all sides of a situation and help them integrate those views. Someone who does not judge and who will help them to keep focused on their purpose. Yes I think that a coach can do all those things and help you achieve more careers success.

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.

William Arthur Ward.  Very wise words for our politicians as they throw the blame around……

For more on balancing self-interest and the common good, see Adam M Grant’ s book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

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