You (According to Them)

Uncovering blind spots that impact your reputation and your career

When Self-Promotion Crosses the Line

Assertive and enthusiastic? Or self-serving and inappropriate?

Thousands of messages fight for our attention every day. When it comes to promoting ourselves for jobs and promotions, we face a mountain of competition when we try to get our unique story through the communication clutter to the right people. For some, the solution is cranking up the volume on their personal sales pitch. They believe they'll be overlooked if they don't shout their value from the rooftops, every chance they get. To them, it's a necessary part of self-promotion in today's global, 24/7, social-media-soaked business world. To their co-workers, it looks like constant bragging. Let the exasperated eye-rolling begin.

You might recall that my last blog focused on people who suffer from a professional blind spot called Faulty Volume Control syndrome, specifically having their self-promotion volume far too low. Some people are plagued by the same syndrome but fall on the other end of the spectrum. One of my clients named Kyle immediately comes to mind.

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Kyle was a grad student finishing up his MBA. He had a big, energetic personality, and he celebrated every personal success with an all-out, no-holds-barred mission to spread the good news. We’re talking about effusive email blasts and Facebook posts. Enthusiastic recaps for co-workers during brief elevator rides. Announcements to acquaintances in the produce aisle at the grocery store. As you might imagine, Kyle’s self-promotion became a running joke for many of his fellow students. Extremely qualified, yet extremely annoying.

If others perceived that Kyle was only interested in himself and his own accomplishments, they would naturally assume he didn’t care about them at all. The greatest resume in the world couldn’t possibly counteract that negative perception.

When Kyle and I started to work together, we talked about the reasons why he felt so unabashed about liberally sharing his successes. We explored whether his approach might stem from a scarcity mentality and a sense of desperation—the fear that there might not be enough success or work to go around. That seemed to strike a nerve. Kyle started to realize that his never-ending sales pitch was hurting (not helping) his case. He also began to understand the gap between his intended communications and the way they were actually perceived by those around him.

I encouraged Kyle to formulate some stories that could carry his value message and deliver it in a less obtrusive manner. We talked about using tact and diplomacy when sharing informa¬tion, and we used some role-playing exercises to experiment with different scenarios. Kyle quickly learned that he needed to stick to the script and be cautious about his timing. Applying his usual eager attitude, he began implementing this approach and was thrilled (perhaps amazed) at the different reactions and responses he received. In fact, one of the department heads he assisted part-time eventually took notice of Kyle’s more sophis¬ticated use of self-promotion and turned out to be a tremendous asset in his post-graduation job hunt.

One of the most important skills I was able to share with Kyle was the ability to look outside of himself to focus on how he was impacting others, how he was making them feel. In other words, I helped him cultivate empathy. Poet Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” By using empathy and tuning in to his colleagues' feelings, Kyle discovered the perfect guide for setting the volume control on his personal self-promotion.

To learn more about Faulty Volume Control syndrome and other hidden roadblocks that could be holding you back, please read my new book: You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career. (www.amazon.com)

Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, career strategist and the author of a new book, You -- According to Them: Uncovering the Blind Spots that Impact Your Reputation and Your Career.

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