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Be the Humble Bragger

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I was encouraging a co-worker of mine to start saving the great results he was getting on a new project in a brag file.

He’d never heard the term, and at first, he though it sounded, well, obnoxious. After I explained how he should collect his results, the compliments from clients, and any other evidence of how well he is doing his job, he started right away.

True bragging is obnoxious. And it doesn’t get the results you want it to anyway. Instead of winning people to your side of an argument or convincing your boss to give you a raise, it turns people off fast.

But it is important—and crucial—for employees to speak up for themselves. You can’t expect your work, however great, to always be noticed. Most mangers are juggling a lot of tasks and a lot of team members, so even those with the best intentions might not be paying close attention to your results.

Keeping track of your accomplishments can help you calmly and methodically present your case for a promotion or raise. And reviewing your brag file can boost your confidence before a big meeting or job interview.

Where it can get tricky is in how you relay those accomplishments without sounding arrogant. In a sense, you need to brag without bragging. That can be particularly difficult for women, who tend to be more likely to believe that their work should speak for itself. And women who do speak up about what they have achieved can be labeled, even in 2014, as being too assertive, unappealing, and worse.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg advises women to say “we” instead of “I” to soften their presentation. She may be right that the approach can limit any backlash, and likely get results. But I tend to think that both women and men need to do the same thing when it comes to bragging; that is, to speak authentically.

No one likes people, male or female, who take credit for everything and who overstate their importance. A lot of factors come together all the time, every time, for anyone to achieve anything—from teammates to resources to the examples of predecessors to coaches and managers and timing and luck.

What is authentic is being aware of all of that, and balancing your role with the larger forces. If you contributed a specific idea or worked extra hours or made a contact no one else was able to make, it is fine to mention it. It is necessary to mention it if you want a raise or a job. After all, you are being evaluated for you, and your contribution. How you work within a team and how you built on previous successes or how you took a piece of good advice and ran with what makes your contribution to the whole important.

If someone thinks you are pushy, or bossy, or unattractive, well, you can’t do anything about that. There are very real cultural mores and stereotypes that may hold you back. But twisting your words to please other people is not, in the long-run, going to make you very happy–raise or no raise. And it isn’t going to change those stereotypes.

So check your file. Remind yourself of all the factors in play, and walk into your bosses office or that job interview. And remind yourself that true confidence isn’t knowing you are special, but being humble enough to know that you are exactly as special as everyone else.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.