The Art of the Subtle Brag

You are the one responsible for making sure others know how amazing you are — and how they can do it too.
Headshot of author Jillian Kaplan
Jillian Kaplan
Expert Contributor
July 22, 2021
Updated: July 25, 2021
Headshot of author Jillian Kaplan
Jillian Kaplan
Expert Contributor
July 22, 2021
Updated: July 25, 2021

As women, we can really struggle with the subtle brag. Possibly because we’re taught to be humble or not show off — or perhaps we just haven’t learned yet. Either way, one of the unwritten rules for women in IT is the art of the subtle brag.

I’m a big believer in rising by raising others. I think women worry that if they brag, they’ll make someone else feel bad.

Comparison is the thief of joy. To master the art of the subtle brag, women in IT have to leave comparison behind. There is always someone who you think is better than you, but you are your only competition. Frankly, having a strong sense of self and confidence is a must-have for women in IT and subtle braggers.

The first key to mastering the art of the subtle brag is understanding the human psyche: People innately want to cheer for someone, and we, in turn, want to be supported. By sharing our own accomplishments, you have the power to inspire someone else. In other words, you’re not saying “Look how awesome I am.” You’re saying, “I did this, and you can do it too.” How powerful is that?

When subtly bragging, the key is to share your accomplishment but also using it to inspire someone else.

To perform a  subtle brag successfully, you have to get over yourself. Punch fear in the face and share authentically. Get over the fear of being judged. We are so afraid that someone is going to think poorly of us if we say something that makes us look good. By focusing your intentions on modeling a path for others, you will inspire through being your authentic self (at least to the right people).

An important component to the subtle brag is being vulnerable about why your achievement is important to you. Vulnerability is what hits home with people and is absolutely key to a subtle brag!

More From Women in TechTech Needs More Women in Engineering

 

Top Tips to Master the Art of the Subtle Brag

List your biggest accomplishments: Ask yourself why you accomplished them and hat could be inspiring about that. By sharing your biggest accomplishments, including the why, is incredibly powerful.

You’re not your company. Embrace yourself: No one wants to look at a company bot. Besides, the most important thing you can be is authentic. And if sharing your achievement in writing, do it in your voice — don’t write in the voice of your company or anyone else. Share your own story.

Share your struggles: You can’t always revert to speaking about a win; that's not real life. Talk about why something was hard and how you overcame it (again, through the lens of helping others). Take your mess and turn it into your message.

 

Breaking Down the Subtle Brag

Earlier in my career as a product marketing manager, I struggled so much to share my authentic self, and I wrongly assumed that people just wanted my highlight reel. They didn’t; they wanted to know I was human. That’s an important lesson: Your humanity is what is going to make you stand out in a noisy digital world.

4 Steps to Highlight Your Success at Work

  1. Share your challenge: What obstacles were in your way?
  2. Share your action: What concrete steps did you take to overcome this challenge? 
  3. Share your result: What results did you get?
  4. Share inspiration. Empower others to do the same by leaving people with a feeling & evoke an emotion.

I spent more than 13 years of my career producing fantastic results and thinking that I would be able to reach my goals just by doing the work. I always had great reviews but I made one fatal mistake: I didn’t brag. I expected my leadership to just know what I wanted in my career through all the work I was doing. Sometimes, that happens. But more often, it doesn’t. You have to take ownership of your career and your brand. Doing amazing work simply isn’t enough. 

You are the one responsible for making sure others know how amazing you are — and not only that, how they can do it, too. 

Ready for more unwritten rules for women in tech? My co-author Sabrina Shafer and I have compiled a guidebook, which you can read or download here.

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