Why We’re Weird about Self-Promotion (And How to Get Over It)

A few weeks ago, I attended a professional development seminar. On the first day, the leader of the workshop asked the group – “How many people are guilty of underselling themselves?” 98% of the room raised their hand. Almost every single person in the room.

Here’s the kicker: This wasn’t a room full of recent college grads or a workshop on “how to get over imposter syndrome.” This was a room full of some of the world’s smartest, highly educated, most accomplished leaders.

Can you relate? Whether it’s putting forth a new idea, asking for a promotion, or presenting to a potential customer, we clam up and succumb to the weirdness of “selling” ourselves. We often have this (false) idea that somehow if we have to “sell” ourselves, it makes us less valuable. The reality is, that people’s brain space is crowded! Even the best ideas, solutions, and people must be compelling enough to get someone’s attention.

If what you have is helpful to your company (or the world), you owe it to yourself and everyone else to get over the weirdness of selling. There are two reasons why our brain gets in the way:

Our perception of “sales” is skewed.

Many people believe that “sales” is about talking someone into something they wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to do on their own. The research tells an entirely different story: The people who have the best intentions for their audience are the people who are most successful in sales.

To overcome this trap, recognize, that you don’t need to be manipulative, slick, or slimy to have your ideas stick. The perception we have of sales is based on the worst salespeople. When we redefine the narrative and recognize that the best starting point in “sales” is a desire to help and serve, we can better step into our full confidence.

We think that if it’s the right thing to do, people shouldn’t need persuading.

If you’re trying to sell an idea to your company, or even trying to put yourself forth for a new job, it’s tempting to convince yourself that people should agree because what you are putting forth is the “right” thing to do.

It’s not that easy. People’s minds are overwhelmed. If what you have is truly helpful to people, you owe it to them to present it in a way that helps them understand it. Even if your body of work, qualifications, or new idea is exceptional, you still need to help people along the journey.

It’s helpful to step outside your own work to see this phenomenon more clearly. Imagine a plumber comes to your house. You think you need them to unclog a sink, but it turns out, you have a big water pressure problem. The plumber starts rattling off a giant list of technical terms, and at that moment, you start to feel confused. Do you really need all that stuff? Are they trying to rip you off? You tell them you want another opinion.

Unsure, you call in a second plumber. He says, “The presenting problem was the clogged sink. But what’s causing the clogged sink is a water pressure issue, and it’s impacting all of the sinks, toilets, and showers in your house. I can fix the sink, but without addressing the root cause, the water pressure, I’ll likely be back to fix another sink in a few months.” He explains it to you in plain terms, very thoroughly. You understand the interconnectedness, and the solution to resolving the water pressure is now making sense.

It was the same (correct!) solution in both situations. Yet in the 2nd scenario, you feel completely different. You’re bought in and ready to take action because the second plumber took the time to craft a compelling explanation relating it to your world, not just theirs.

The same thing happens at work. Good ideas and good people can get overlooked simply because of poor presentation. Being deliberate and proud to present your ideas doesn’t make you slimy; it is a service to the people around you.

If you want more on this topic, check out a replay of my LinkedIn Live.