“If you answer your own question, you’ve lost.”
someone who is excessively preoccupied with themselves.
“… is Donald Trump an intellectual?” Trust me. I’m like a smart person.”
Donald Trump at CIA
“Our brains are wired to reward us for talking about ourselves.
But droning on about yourself is a horrible way to make a good impression.”
In my career I was never particularly good at ‘selling myself’ or ‘reporting on oneself’ as I am referring to it today. I always believed I shouldn’t have to talk about anything I had achieved … that the work, the thinking and the outcomes would speak for themselves.
From a career success standpoint that was most likely a significant flaw in my style.
From a business consultant standpoint that was most likely a significant plus in my thinking.
I don’t care who you are or what business you are in at some point someone better be talking about you. If they are not that means either you are a ‘nothing’ in the scheme of things or you are doing great things but doomed because no one knows.
That means at some point you have to get the word out.
That means every business, and every business leader, will sit down and say “I have all these things I want to say about myself/my business and I want to say them” – this could be to the general public, peers or even customers.
While I tend to think the whole concept of ‘the customer is king/queen’ is slightly misguided … at its most basic foundational core it simply suggests that if you aren’t paying attention to the customer and only paying attention to yourself you are not only implementing a narcissistic approach but one most likely doomed for failure.
But … in order to build value you have to often tell them some things about yourself and what you are doing <and not just in response to their questions or requests>.
In business you learn this lesson fairly fast <because to not do so can smack you in the face quickly> if you want to build value beyond ‘order taker.’
Dialogue, or at least some version of ‘listening & responding’ and “give & take”, is actually a fairly natural thing for us to do. Science says that humans, being social animals, are programmed to use communication as a vital tool to survive and thrive.
But research also tells us something else.
Research also tells us that our favorite subject to discuss is … uhm … ourselves.
People spend 60% of their conversations talking about themselves
<80% when on social media>
In fact … Harvard psychologists discovered that individuals were willing to give up money for the opportunity to talk about themselves.
I tend to believe we all know that the ideal conversation should be a give and take where it is around a 50/50 split on words and sharing.
The problem with that?
That not only means staying quiet half the time … but actually listening during that time.
That is a double whammy tough challenge for anyone.
But you know what?
If you have been in business for any amount of time you get it … you may not like it … it may not come naturally … but you understand it is a vital tool for being successful in business.
This all leads me to my topic today … how do you share news about yourself given all that I just said?
Most people understand this but, in terms of believability and building some ongoing ‘brand value’, it really does matter who says what.
I stated this in a white paper I wrote years ago:
And a quick note on Who has permission to say What.
The ability to make your brand a megaphone for this group of people is mostly about who you are as a brand already in their minds. A brand is a set of convictions that surround a product or service in the Consumer’s mind. These convictions are created through genuine involvement – a participation with this product or service either mentally or physically. Now, people like brands. They like having a comfortable relationship where there is a certain amount of trust. Maybe it is simply that with all the decisions we are forced to make every day it is nice to know there is one less decision to be made.
Because of this relationship a consumer has with a brand there are some things a brand just cannot say. Or I imagine they can say anything they want, but as in any relationship, they need to understand the repercussions of that communication. Just like a husband telling his wife “you look fat” (and the response that generates) as well as a wife telling a husband “you are mentally disturbed” (and what makes you credible to tell me that!) there are ranges of things a brand can tell the consumer and be credible.
Pushing, lecturing or forcing are rarely effective no matter the relationship but even more so when the brand – consumer relationship is suspect (or unclear).
Suffice it to say … when you decide to report on some shit you have done you also have acknowledge that everybody carries around a set of perceptions about you <whether you are a brand or not>.
What I mean by that is the moment I stand up in front of people almost everyone in the room will be filtering through what they know about me, what they think about me and what they may be open to believing about me.
That’s just the way it is <whether you like it or not>.
I say that because if you want to report on how you are doing and what you are doing … well … you have to think about how to go about doing it. And, no, it is not a easy as stepping up in front of people and just reporting.
I would suggest there are basically three avenues with regard to who is going to say what you want to not only say … but what will actually be heard.
- Offer the news yourself <giving yourself credit>.
This is the worst option. This offers the narrowest path to successfully communicating anything good about yourself.
Too humble and it sounds disingenuous, possibly that you are hiding something, sometimes suggests there is nothing to say or simply doesn’t offer enough detail to make what you say meaningful.
Too confident and it sounds hollow, unbelievable, hyperbole and possibly you are hiding something <usually something bad>.
Most of us who have had some success in business believe no one can explain what we have done better than ourselves. We would, 99% of the time, be wrong.
Before his Oval Office meeting with Theresa May, Friday morning began with a tweet – the @Potus account used to quote himself, with an embedded video of himself, while citing his own personal Twitter account.
Tooting your own horn, giving yourself credit … no matter how humble you try and spin it … will most likely earn, at best, 50% of the true value of the achievement. Yeah. I just made that formula up … but it sound about right.
Truth & candor is elusive on this path — even if you are truly speaking truth with candor. Everything you say about yourself, through your own mouth, immediately gets filtered thru a colander of skepticism. If you don’t realize that by the time you have hit middle management you are either clueless or you don’t care.
- Have someone who obviously works for you offer the news <and credit you>.
This is semi-effective. Significantly better than standing up and saying it yourself but when delivered by a paid employee it is always viewed thru a cynical filter. Listeners will be skeptical but dialogue, questions & answers, can truly make or break this avenue.
That doesn’t mean it cannot be effective and, in fact, if you have a fabulous authentic spokesperson this can be a gangbuster way of sharing news.
Truth and candor wins the day for you on this. If your spokesperson is elusive or has a dubious relationship with truth you are screwed. If your spokesperson is credible, truthful and authentic … your wins will be lauded as wins and your losses/mistakes will be viewed more favorably <you earn points for the attempt>.
- Say nothing yourself, have your people say nothing <or little> and have a 3rd party offer the news <and credit you>.
This is the most credible and, frankly, the most truthful if you are seeking to know how you are doing as a leader. Unsolicited credit is the most powerful. This is tricky because if not encouraged there is only silence. Too much encouragement and it appears to be biased or “paid for” endorsements. But nothing makes you more credible, your achievements more valued and your thinking more appreciated than if someone, unsolicited, gives you credit.
Leaders, if they are worth half a shit, always question themselves and maybe even encounter a sliver of self-doubt on occasion. And depending on your personality you will manage those feelings in a variety of ways. Overall, more often than not, a leader will err on the side of defending their character, decisions and direction like they are in a cage match. Uhm. Not a lot of listening but rather aggressive “telling what you know about you, your character, your decision and your direction.”
In doing this it is always tempting to create a ‘majority’ in your head which supports whatever you report about yourself <mostly because most good sane business people really do think fairly rigorously about the shit they do> but unless you are a deaf bombastic asshole … you know that the majority of people will have at least a sliver of questioning with regard to whatever you say and do.
And even then … even if you fuck up the whole “let me share some news about myself and why I know what I am doing and why I am great” stuff … typically most business people recognize that they … well … have to recognize the listener … have to recognize the receiver of this self-reporting.
If you actually have some listeners you need to recognize that you have … most sane business leaders always remember to 100% avoid two things:
- “I don’t have respect for you” attitude.
If you are a sales person who has been promoted, you almost always respect the sales department more and the accounting department with … well … less respect. Or maybe the legal or HR department isn’t your favorite. Well. It doesn’t matter. You manage them all. Agree or disagree your job as a leader is to get everyone in line and going in the right direction at the fastest effective pace. Simply saying “go” just doesn’t hack it. And not respecting other departments, or anyone for that matter, doesn’t really help you communicate what may be important to you <because if they do not feel important they will treat you & your words similarly – not important>.
- “You need me more than I need you” attitude.
Great leaders never tangibly communicate a symbiotic relationship but the net response for what they state suggests a positive symbiotic relationship. That said. A sociologist named Charles Derber identified something called Conversational Narcissism.
Conversational Narcissism suggests that the speaker elevates themselves to a place wherein they are at the top of the hierarchy <however hierarchy is defined>. “The best schools” and “the best teachers” and self-proclaimed “very intelligent” and having one of “the best IQs” would be some of the signs. Attitudinally this suggests they need you more than you need them.
Every business person with half a brain knows, whether they like it or not, they need all those people to make it all happen and work and create the desired outcomes. No man is an island. We need people.
Diminishing those you are going to need is never a particularly good strategy.
It’s dangerous talking about yourself too much because you find yourself talking in sound bites.
People, in general, are skeptical of progress and success until it is not only apparent but has been established <so they know it is going to stay in some form or fashion>. They feel exactly the same way about your achievements. I mention that because the timing of communicating achievements matters.
Here is a business truth.
Success and achievements are like all those pistons and hoses and mumbo jumbo under the hood of your car. If your car is tuned up and working the way it should the car goes, gets you where it should go and maybe even gets you their faster than some other people on occasion. Personally I believe in reporting on oneself you should never refer to oneself … always refer to the car. Because if the car is doing what it needs to do enough … well … you are gonna get some credit at some point.
By the way … if you are a business leader and a lot of what I shared today is news to you … well … you are either clueless or you don’t care.