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Humblebrag at work without being a jerk

For Katherine*, Brian* was just a peripheral, though constant, annoyance at work. He was that obnoxious guy in the break room first thing in the morning, every morning, moaning about that “mountain of work” he had to tackle that day, or complaining about having to spend “yet another late night at the office.”

“The first few times, I honestly felt sorry for him,” Katherine recalled. “I advised him to push back on some of his deadlines and commitments, and I even offered to help him out with a few if he needed. But after a while, I noticed he spent most of his time at work on Facebook (posting about how busy he was!) or on his phone (talking about how slammed he was!). After that, I was just... not... interested. This guy was about as busy as my niece… and she’s four.”

So it was a huge shock when promotion time came around, and a hotly-contested position went to none other than Brian.

“I think my jaw just dropped to the floor. My colleagues and I worked twice as hard, and we just couldn’t understand how that could happen.”

The benefits of releasing your inner peacock

Katherine went straight to her boss, and what she heard shocked her. While her boss acknowledged Katherine’s hard work, she admitted she was hard-pressed to identify the individual contributions and accomplishments Katherine had made. With Brian, on the other hand, there was no such mystery.

“I just assumed that my boss knew what work I’d done and would see through Brian’s bluster. Clearly, I’d assumed wrong.”

Get credit where it’s due

There’s an oft-quoted 2015 Harvard survey that denounces the efficacy of the humblebrag, blasting it as being counterproductive even, to advancing in the corporate world. But the reality is that without a certain level of “bragging,”

But the reality is that without a certain level of “bragging,” it’s frighteningly easy for employees to get lost in the crowd.

Most managers handle upwards of five people and it’s almost impossible for them to keep track of exactly what each team member is up to, let alone in group projects where roles and responsibilities get especially messy.

It’s therefore up to you to be your own best advocate and shine the light on what you did to help push a project along, or make it successful. To do any less is to risk having your contributions forgotten—or worse—attributed to somebody else.

Appear more competent, dependable and flexible

Soon after the Harvard survey made its rounds, a team of business professors from the University of Economics in Prague decided to conduct their own survey into the humblebrag—this time to see what effect it had during job interviews.

As part of the study, participants were told to answer the classic (and awful) interview question: “What’s your biggest weakness?” Of the 91 answers, 26 of them humblebragged in their response, citing objectively positive characteristics as being negative, for eg. being “too enthusiastic about work… (and) lik(ing) to take (their) work home.”

The next part involved participants being given information about candidates for a hypothetical job listing, including their answers to the weakness question.

What they found was that while the humblebragging applicants weren’t winning any popularity contests, they were, however, deemed to be more competent, dependable, and flexible than their more honest counterparts.

While the humblebragging applicants weren’t winning any popularity contests, they were, however, deemed to be more competent, dependable, and flexible than their more honest counterparts.

So when it comes to professional situations like interviews or promotions, a humblebrag or two could put you closer to the prize.

How to #humblebrag without being a jerk

The most off-putting thing about the humblebrag is the thinly-veiled attempt at modesty or self-deprecation that comes with it. So, focus on the humble in #humblebrag.

“I spoke to a packed hall at SFU today. I’m going to pretend it had nothing to do with the free food!”

Instead of forcing in that phony modesty, focus on the work or effort that you put in, how proud you are of what you’ve accomplished, and gratitude for the people who helped make it happen.

“Spoke to a packed hall at SFU today. It was honestly just surreal! I want to thank everyone who came down, and helped make this convention such a success.”

Being genuine takes the sting out of the brag, and it becomes more a moment of sharing your success with friends, rather than an attempt to simply broadcast it.

Not everything you do deserves a shout out, so be picky when choosing what to highlight. It pays to be judicious about what you brag about.

“Made it to work before 8AM two weeks in a row! #killingit #professional”

Congratulating yourself on every contribution or achievement diminishes the worth of even your most admirable accomplishments—think of it as congratulatory fatigue—

If the thought of humblebragging in person still makes you a little queasy, throw yourself into the warm, welcoming embrace of social media.

LinkedIn, for example, is the perfect avenue to trumpet your professional achievements. Whether you list them in your resume, or feature them in your posts, any “brag” can be artfully explained away as a step towards building your online, professional brand.

If you’re using Facebook or Twitter, throwing in a cheeky #humblebrag is a great tongue-in-cheek way of getting your accomplishment out there, without sounding obnoxious.

“Another year, another employee of the year award #humblebrag.”

Make humblebragging a standard part of every one-on-one you have with your manager to talk about a particular success or achievement.

That way, you don’t have to feel awkward when bringing up your contributions—after all, it’s an expected agenda item! Plus, there’s the bonus of having an added challenge to do something that’s worth reporting each month.

Reimagine the #humblebrag

In an ideal world, our individual contributions would be easily recognized and acknowledged. But as anyone who’s ever worked on a group project will tell you, that’s not the world we live in.

And that’s a fact that Katherine’s learned to accept as well.

“I don’t get so worked up anymore about celebrating my successes,” says Katherine. “I realized that if I didn’t do it, nobody would do it for me. I just make an effort to be honest and respectful about it, and I think that helps sets me apart from the Brians of the world!”

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and not so innocent).

Zareen Islam is a San Francisco-based freelance writer, copy editor, and consultant. When she’s not writing for others, she can usually be found cuddling shelter puppies, and pinning salad recipes while eating pizza. Find her on Twitter: @trifleandjam.