Thursday, January 11, 2018

It ain't bragging if it is true

I'm ready to blog about this:

Let me start of with quoting the colleague in question, with her permission:
I had a session with Maaret, where we went through things I do in my job as a software tester. It amazed me how difficult it was to brag about myself and even more, how difficult it was for me to see all the things I do.

We used white table and Maaret wrote all the thing she has seen me doing. I was speechless. I just nodded, yes yes, that's what I do - I just didn't understand it was worth for mentioning. It was just "business as usual".

It is really hard to try to prove to your boss how useful you are, when all the things you do happen in the background without any "hard evidence".

I'm so grateful Maaret took time and went all this through with me, it was an eye-opening session for me, too, and now I have hard evidence to present to my boss :)
You've been here, right? Feeling that you do a good job, feeling that talking about what you consider good is bragging and that bragging is just awful. It's so awful you can't even find the words to talk the truth to the power when it matters to you personally the most: when someone is deciding on your future.

So how do you learn to brag about your contributions?

Ask someone else to brag for you

It if often easier to notice the good in others than in yourself. Listen to when people say nice things about you and in addition to avoiding the "oh, that was nothing" that comes out all too often, replace it with "Thank you" and a deep mental note on what it was about. You belittle it. Don't. Small things are much bigger than you sometimes give them credit for.

You can also start specifically asking for feedback. And asking for help, like my colleague did is also ok. Saying things that you hide deep because you don't give them credit can be hard without giving the other a chance of observing you. I worked in the same room for a month to be able to recognize some of the unique ways of working that fits her personality. We do the same work differently, even to same results. 


Start your bragging small, for a safe audience. If you start to learn to brag on your work, effort and results to your boss, you could frame it as "I'm practicing making my contribution visible". Invite feedback. If your boss isn't the person you feel safe with, find someone who is.

Within Women in Testing Slack Community, we have (from Gitte Klitgaard's initiative, isn't she awesome!) a #BragAndAppreciate channel that gives excellent opportunities on trying out ways of saying something in positive tone. Small and big brags are equally welcome.

I've had chances of assessing my feelings on bragging with various coaches, guiding (forcing) me through bragging exercises. Realizing almost everyone sucks at bragging and that we are culturally and structurally conditioned to not brag helps in giving yourself a permission to try it out.

Start small, grow. Encourage others to share positive. Share positive of others actively, and look at which ones also apply to you. 

Focus on the positive

Play your strengths, everyone knows you have weaknesses anyway. It is not dishonest to just focus on the positive, and building a case for why you are doing good. You're asked why you don't speak out in design meetings more, focus on what you do instead: listen fully without preparing to answer, digest, let things sink in. Focus on describing what do you do with the information after it sunk in. Make the 1:1 discussions that no one else pays attention to visible.

You will feel guilty about things and you feel you'd want to say out loud some of them. Learn not to. Say them at a different time. Don't belittle yourself. Others in this world do too much of it already.

Tell stories

To have really good bragging is to channel being proud and boastful when you talk about things you do and achieve (learning is an achievement, failing is an option). Include a story of what really happened, examples keep things real. For example my colleague is a thorough, patient, detail-oriented tester. Instead of saying she finds a lot of bugs to discuss and then report, tell a story of the time you tested. Choose one that is exemplary or recent. You can't tell all the stories, choose one that shows you in a good light.

Manage up

"It ain't bragging if it's true" is attributed to actor/humorist Will Rogers. You could say it's lying, not bragging if it isn't true. But the difference here is to look at yourself and your work in the best possible light. Shine the light on the good parts. We'll notice the others if they are relevant without you personally pointing them out as disclaimers every time you speak of yourself. We can talk of those at another time.

Appreciate what you do. All what you do. You use a lot of time on doing it. It is more worth appreciating than you realize. You need to appreciate yourself so that your boss can learn to appreciate you more through your views. Your career is yours, and too important to be left on your manager. It's more of a collaboration, you drive your own future.

And to end the story my colleague started, one step further: she presented the list of what she does to her boss, only slightly apologizing that she needed to share all of this stuff. But the best part to me was what she said right after: "My throat is hurting, I was talking so much in this meeting". Mild bragging accomplished and adored.