How Self-Promotion Can Improve Your Life — And The World

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Are you pretty bad at self-promotion? Raise your hand if you’ve ever deferred a compliment by talking yourself down. (You know, someone says “She’s so smart! She just finished up her graduate degree!” and you respond by saying something like, “No way, I’m a total idiot. It was half luck!”) Or maybe you turned it back on the person complimenting you. This reluctance to self-promote is particularly common in women and non-binary people. While we’re quick to boost up our friends, it can be a lot harder to publicly boost up ourselves.

A recent survey called The Self-Promotion Gap by examined this reluctance so many of us have to tooting our own horns. The survey examined a nationally representative group of 1,016 American adults (517 women and 499 men) and the majority of women don’t like talking about their strengths and accomplishments. In fact, 47% would rather run errands in the rain and 42% would rather clean the bathroom than talk themselves up.

Relationship therapist Dr. Gary Brown, PhD, LMFT, FAPA, believes that at least some of this reluctance to self-promote is due to people thinking that “self promotion” is the same as “bragging.”

“The idea of healthy self-promotion is sometimes confused with bragging,” Dr. Brown tells Bustle. “We need to distinguish between the two. Healthy self-promotion comes from an inner confidence we have about one or a series of important achievements. This genuine confidence has a wonderful tone of genuine pride mixed with a healthy sense of humility. That combination of character traits can be truly inspiring. This is different from bragging, which tends to be tainted with out-and-out arrogance and pomposity. Bragging is often associated with an over-inflated sense of self-importance.”

So why should you get on the self-promotion train? Here are some ways “bragging” more could improve your life — and the world.

1. Help You Get Ahead In Your Career

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While we all like to think that everyone is paying attention to us, the truth is that people are more often concerned about themselves. With that in mind, if you’re constantly talking down your accomplishments or giving other people credit for your hard work, how are your bosses, managers, and co-workers going to know how awesome you are?

Remember what Dr. Brown said: There’s a difference between bragging and healthy self-promotion. There’s no need to bring up your latest numbers or increased customer base or whatever it is you’ve accomplished out of nowhere. But if one of your accomplishments comes up in the course of a meeting or something, own it! Don’t let anyone else claim your hard work and don’t let yourself talk it down, either.

2. Encourage Other Women To Own Their Accomplishments

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Talking about your own accomplishments could also encourage other women to do the same.

“The very good news is that younger women are starting to break out of the box as they become more comfortable with healthy self-promotion,” Dr. Brown says. “One of the reasons for this is that more young women are wanting, needing, and responding to successful women who are increasingly comfortable with self-promotion and the confidence that comes with it. As more glass ceilings are broken, this is becoming the norm for more and more women.”

3. Close The Pay Gap

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There’s an old belief that women don’t get as many raises as men because they don’t ask for them — and that this discrepancy is a big part of why women make so much less on the dollar than men do. But a 2018 study from Harvard found that women do ask for raises as often as men — they just don’t get them.

In an article in InStyle about the study, Ladies Get Paid founder Claire Wasserman suggests that one reason for this might be because we’re not self-promoting enough throughout the year.

Wasserman writes:

“Women may be asking for more money but perhaps not making as strong of a case as they could. During the negotiation itself and throughout the year, we may use passive language (starting emails with ‘I’m sorry” ‘and using qualifiers like ‘just’ and ‘actually’) and don’t take as much credit for our work as we should. We fall victim to the mistaken belief that if we keep our heads down and work hard, we will be recognized. I see this all the time with women who come to Ladies Get Paid wanting to learn to advocate for themselves, to tell the story of their wins so they can get the recognition and rewards they deserve.”

And here’s a little bit of encouragement (which is also kind of upsetting) for some of you to ask for that raise, from The Self Promotion Gap survey: Apparently, older men are more likely to be inspired by by women “who stand up for themselves” than older women, younger women, and younger men. That’s good news because older men are also more likely to be bosses than those other groups.

So instead of deferring or deflecting the next time someone gives you a compliment, take my mom’s advice: Just say thanks. It’s one small step toward closing that self-promotion gap.