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To Brag or Not to Brag

Not so long ago, on a lazy Friday evening I happened upon Brag!, a book that caught the corner of my eye and reeled me in. I can’t say much as to why, but somewhere between the title, the simple yet loud cover and my intrigue I was entangled for the rest of the weekend.

Are you bragging? Self-promoting? Hiding under a rug?

Is it wrong to brag?

How are you coming across? Would you consider your efforts successful? Do you even dare do it? This book is full of good and bad examples of bragging situations, some comical, some relatable and others a bit out of touch (at least for me). In any case it is a nice fluid read that does not contain any revealing information you haven’t heard before, but it does create a good and straightforward package for all the little snippets you have learned somewhere along your professional career.

If you are looking for that little push towards bragging your way to success (boy, that was cheesy) this could just be the nudge you need. Sensible, approachable and specific. In a nutshell, Peggy Klaus has five main tips for you:
1. Toot your own horn — in the business world of today, you have to self-promote
2. Create a “bragologue” — quick story with strengths and accomplishments
3. Be prepared — to brag at a moment’s notice
4. Team un with technology — and promote yourself
5. Bragging saves bucks — nicely done, it is cheaper than a PR campaign

I now ask of you:

Do you toot your own horn?
Are you good at it?
Do you feel awkward doing so?
Are you against it?
Do you reproach those who do?

If you decide to read this book, you might change your mind, and yet you might not. But that, my dears, is up to you and your bragging potential.

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PUBLISHED ON Apr.08.2006 BY bryony
Natalie Jost’s comment is:

I do not brag. Okay, I sprinkle bragginess about here and there and I'm pretty good at taking compliments, but there's a really tough part about keeping humility while feigning coolness. I'm still pretty awkward with coming right out and bragging without prompting, but I think I'm good enough at it when it's called for. That's a tough topic. I'll have to get the book. :)

On Apr.08.2006 at 12:12 PM
LTF’s comment is:

I will be reading this book asap since I sometimes feel when

I am describing what I do to a potential client that I am not communicating my strengths well enough because I am afraid of bragging. I also think men are expected to brag and women are expected to be modest.

As an example In a portfolio class where we rewrote our résumés the teacher objected to a section I had titled "Awards" and that the word "Recognition" would be "less conceited."

On Apr.08.2006 at 12:21 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Here in Canada, bragging is a definite no-no, and even the slightest exclamations of success are frowned upon. This partly explains why most Canadians move to the US in order to "make it."—because you kindof have to brag to keep moving. If no one knows the things you've done ... well what's the point?

But there's bragging, and there's letting people know what you're doing. The difference is slight but important, I think. For instance, I'm always on at my students in regards to their design rationales "Don't say 'this is a successful design' or 'what i have created is exciting' — let the client decide whether it's successful or exciting. Just tell why you've done what you've done." Similarly, in life I am learning to make a point of telling people "Hey, I'm doing this." or "I've been asked to take part in that." without saying "and what I've created is the most jaw-dropping thing you've ever seen," or "So-and-so says I'm a fucking genius."

The point is not to make self-judgements. Tell the truth and say what you've done, but let others decide whether you're "a leading thinker," "on the forefront," "at the top of your game," "wildly creative," "highly skilled," "internationally known," etc.

Of course, I presume there comes a point at which bragging can (or should) be replaced by extreme humbleness. When your incredible fame takes on its own momentum, it would be wise to turn around and say "Aw shucks, that was nothing," and "Do you really think so?" and "Oh! I didn't know anyone knew about that."

I usually just stick to "Yes, I'm really excited about that!" Because I am, and who can fault you for that?

On Apr.08.2006 at 02:11 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Here in Canada, bragging is a definite no-no, and even the slightest exclamations of success are frowned upon.

I was at a fish store when one of the live lobsters started crawling out of the tank. When I alerted the owner he said “Don’t worry. They’re from Canada. The others will pull him back.”

On Apr.08.2006 at 03:50 PM
Randy’s comment is:

I'm with Marian on this one. It's best to just state the facts. I'm genuinely surprised and always grateful when something good comes my way. It can help to talk about it, as exposure begets exposure, but often enough, really big things don't need to be talked about much. Those with interest find out anyway.

I call mom. I tell my close friends. I make a brief blog post. I've never told a client about award that I can think of, unless it was for their project.

On Apr.08.2006 at 04:05 PM
Tan’s comment is:

If promotion is bragging, then sure, I brag. I brag about my company, my design team, my projects, and yes, myself.

But I brag for only one reason — to develop and grow business opportunities for myself and my company. Business bragging is PR, which is an important part of any business, not just design.

I don't brag to my family because they don't understand what I do anyway. This reminds me of a famous line from Potlatch's Ben Day movie where he's on the phone with his mother trying to explain, "Mom, famous in the design world, Mom...in the design world."

Bragging to your peers doesn't make sense either. Unless it's bragging to piss off an archnemesis — which always feels great.

There's nothing wrong with bragging, in fact, we are paid to brag for our clients daily. They've won x number of JD Powers awards, or maybe they're in the top 100 places to work in the US, or some other proclamation. It's common business practice, so why shouldn't designers employ the same attitude.

On Apr.08.2006 at 06:20 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Maybe it's the baggage that the word "BRAG" brings: egotist, boasting, high esteem, excessive pride...though being in advertising, nearly everything has some kind of promotion or statement or advocacy. Maybe it's about quality and achievement, as Tan states.

Humility is not usually a quality I've seen among designers I've met, otherwise, how could they envision a better logo and a better ad.

Now add thoughtfulness and eloquence and you have something more than bragging...

On Apr.08.2006 at 08:30 PM
Brian Alter’s comment is:

Did anybody see my Word It from last month? Outta sight!

On Apr.08.2006 at 10:33 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Sorry, I just remembered the last line Ben Day said to his mother as he hung up the phone in frustration, "Well I'm sure Communications Arts has never heard of you either."

I miss that movie...

On Apr.08.2006 at 11:45 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Thanks Gunnar, that was a good laugh.

On Apr.09.2006 at 12:26 AM
felixxx shamewell’s comment is:

Ben Day = Classic. Word to Ben.

Bragging is indeed an art.

Ask brag hag Brian Collins.

That guy is a genius braggart. Seriously, If I could

brag like that windbag I'd be one rich fool.

Damn, I'm an idiot. I mean genius. Yes, genius!

Give a listen to the master of last friday's

Link: fantastic

bragologue on Deb Millman's show.

Lets be honest, we love a gorgeous braggart. If only to

hold the mirror. Oh, and you know I love a good mirror.

On Apr.09.2006 at 01:06 PM
Dani Nordin’s comment is:

Bragging to your peers doesn't make sense either. Unless it's bragging to piss off an archnemesis — which always feels great.

HA! I'm always down for a little good-natured vindictiveness. Although the term archnemesis makes me think of someone in a cape...

I brag in odd ways - I'll occasionally joke about how fabulous I am just to get a laugh. But the actual tooting of my own horn, aside from saying I'm good at what I do, is a skill I need to refine a bit. I've found that people tend to respond better when you tell stories about how you've helped others, rather than just awards you won.

On Apr.09.2006 at 05:03 PM
Chris Dixon’s comment is:

On the window of the office of a wedding photographer near where I work “Voted top 5 photographer in the World”.

Obviously this is bragging taken to it’s ultimate (well, at least five steps back from ultimate) conclusion. Point is, would anybody take this shit seriously?

Maybe what they meant to say was “Voted top 5 ugliest photographer in the World” or “Voted top 5 most exspensive photographer in the World”

Is it too idealistic to hope that your work might speak for itself? Are we reduced to a situation where loudest equals best?

On Apr.09.2006 at 10:45 PM
Patrick O'Neal’s comment is:

I can, have and will continue to conceive, art direct, design or illustrate anything as good as or better than Chiate\Day..., Crispin..., Widen..., Mother or Pentagram.

How's that?

On Apr.09.2006 at 11:26 PM
Brian Alter’s comment is:

Maybe someday designers will have to deal with the occasional "mystery client" who covertly critiques the work and rates it numerically. An annual book is then published a la Zagat.

Or does that already happen?

On Apr.09.2006 at 11:27 PM
bryony’s comment is:

I do believe we should all “brag” without bragging. When you are selling a firm, a service, yourself in order to produce revenue. Not far from what ever company in the world does through advertising. The key to each individual success is in the how, followed by the when and the why and the what.

People need to know what your capabilities are, what your thinking is all about, what you are up to that can best benefit them on a case by case situation. The best way to know about those things is directly from you.

Word of mouth is great, but you have to start the stream. Needless to say you have to support the rumors by actions and demonstrations and many times by continuing to talk about yourself (firm/company/etc.)

On Apr.10.2006 at 09:26 AM
cweese’s comment is:

I had a situation the other day where a small amount of bragging made me sound like a competent professional where I would have otherwise come off like I was apologizing - I work as an in-house designer but am also trying to build a local portfolio, so I take on after-hours clients. The problem is finding a good way to explain this to potential new clients.

So, on my last phone conversation, instead of jumping right to the point and saying "I hope you'll let me do some work for you anyways," I did a bit of name dropping first — 'I'm currently doing work for so-and-so, plus web clients across the province, and I'm an in-house designer. I'd really love to start working with more local clients, so if you're comfortable with that I think we can definitely go ahead.'

I guess it's the spin...

On Apr.10.2006 at 11:05 AM
David E.’s comment is:

Here in Canada, bragging is a definite no-no

Living in a place like that would be really refreshing after living in Los Angeles for the last 8 years. This city often seems filled with pretentious people who are constantly trying to impress one another, and most of them couldn't possibly be less impressive. Living here, I've come to hate any and all types of bragging. However, what cweese described isn't bragging, it's just a straight-forward description of what he actually does. An example of an obnoxious spin was the temp we had in here on friday. I overheard him on the phone telling someone he was "consulting" with our company. Sorry, you're not a consultant. There's no shame in temping — so if that's what you're doing, say so.

I'm all for being proud of yourself and never sounding apologetic when describing what you do, but please leave out the bragging. No one cares.

On Apr.10.2006 at 12:46 PM
john logic’s comment is:

this discourse begs a reading (or re-reading) of this: On Bullshit.

especially for anyone calling themselves a consultant rather than the temp they are...

On Apr.10.2006 at 04:36 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Ever since I started Speak Up and the many beneficial repercussions it has had I have found it extremely uncomfortable to brag and/or tout its success. As much as I enjoy the "look at what I did!" feeling, I usually cringe at the thought of putting the words on paper or on the internet or drop it in a conversation. However, I do manage to just get over it and let people think whatever they want and on my end I just try to come off as grateful for the success, and that can be contagious. Proper and targeted bragging can be highly effective, so I wouldn't discourage anyone from doing it tactically and tastefully.

On Apr.11.2006 at 08:38 AM
cweese’s comment is:

Well that's funny, I'm Canadian and the name-dropping kind of felt like bragging... or at least like stepping out of my usual politeness box. (OK, I really didn't mean that to sound as sterotyped as it does...) My dashboard dictionary defines 'bragging' as 'an act of talkin boastfully', with 'boast' defined as to 'talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities.'

So I guess it depends on what your definition of 'excessive' is, and whether you think it does you any good or not.

On Apr.11.2006 at 08:23 PM
cweese’s comment is:

This Canadian's a she, by the way :)

On Apr.11.2006 at 08:26 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Bragging makes one sound pretentious and also is a great sales technique. There are pros and cons. ;o)

Ideally, if you are a big enough company, you hire staff to handle all the bragging for you (ie, the sales team)

On Apr.12.2006 at 10:35 AM
bryony’s comment is:

Does anyone have any stories or anecdotes of when “selling yourself, or bragging” backfired horribly?

Or any suggestions of what really works for you?

On Apr.12.2006 at 04:02 PM
Pete A’s comment is:

I agree with Marian's sentiments. Whenever I interview or meet with a prospective client, I walk them through my portfolio, choosing various pieces/projects stating the issues at hand, my approach to it, and how it was ultimately solved with possibly some resulting statistics thrown in for good measure...(i.e., "This campaign proved very effective and orders went up by such and such an amount in the following quarter.") Maybe that last line could be construed as marginal bragging but when I think bragging, I think more like someone really puffing themselves up and getting carried away with themselves ("I can brand circles around Tolleson Design!").

On Apr.12.2006 at 04:14 PM
marc english’s comment is:

marian is right on the money. i have a friend, a close buddy, who cannot get thru a beer with a stranger without telling said stanger who is is, who he works for (invariably the name means nothing to said stranger) and then proceeds to name drop and talk of his accomplishments. and my pal is one of those name you see in the rags all the time. (sorry, am i name dropping?).

in his case i think its a case of esteem. but i'm no psychoanalyst. i just play one at the bar.

there is a world of difference between acknowledging accomplishments and acting like god's gift to ____________ . when i was a kid, there was a TV show, a western, with walter brennan. it was called The Guns of Will Sonnet, and short-lived (1967-69). he and his grandson were eternally in search of the son/father in the middle. will sonnet (brennan) was the quickest draw in the west. he had a great line when folks queried him on his prowess: "No brag. Just fact."

so outlining the facts should tell a story, the facts speaking for themselves. and if the facts spell out a certain story worthy of sharing, then i say share away. i've read things in the press about myself that were factual errors (e.g., trip to the Far East). i suppose i could quote from the publication and gild the lilly, but that would be plain wrong.

maybe we should think about someone we care about overhearing us. would they be proud or embarassed for us?

On Apr.13.2006 at 06:14 PM