There is a bit of ancient wisdom I want to urge upon you. Neglecting this wisdom leads to embarrassment and loss. Observing it is not only good for your soul, but it leads to good will and favor in your life.
That bit of ancient wisdom is this: “Let another praise you, not your own lips.”
We live in an age of branding and image management. We live at a time when people are preoccupied with how they are perceived. This can drive some folks to extremes. They can’t have a conversation without rehearsing their resume. They meet a new person and their chief aim is to impress with past achievements and current connections. The goal of their lives is about implanting the preferred version of themselves in the minds of others.
Now, leaders will be called upon to tell people who they are from time to time. It is simply part of doing business, of presenting oneself openly and honorably to others.
Yet, when insecurity and vanity come into play, the simple art of explaining ourselves to others can become an off-putting and even offensive exercise in empty boasting.
I attended a symposium recently and got a front-row seat to just such an exercise. There was a man present who could not open his mouth without bragging about himself. His conversation was full of “I was the first to do so-and so” or “I told them, but they wouldn’t listen, and I was right.” He talked about his achievements and repeatedly held up his self-published book. Every story he told portrayed him as the hero and all others as lesser souls who doubted him to their eventual shame.
This man’s conduct would have been dishonorable in any context, but what made it even worse was that he was speaking to a room filled with highly accomplished people. Eminent men and women of great gravitas were forced to sit quietly while this man extolled his mild achievements, apparently unaware of how silly he appeared.
It hurt him. Potential clients backed away. Those who might have been comrades were disparaged. He was the butt of jokes by the end of the day.
There are two principles this man ignored to his own detriment. First, he praised himself. Hear me: you never want to do this. Even if what you choose to say about yourself is true, if you praise yourself in the process people will take it as vanity and remember that impression rather than the facts of what you say. It will backfire and hurt you in ways you won’t even know about.
Second, if you do have to report the facts about yourself, center what you say on the affirmation of others rather than your own estimate of yourself. For example, if you say that you’ve earned a doctorate, then you are reporting the “praise” of others—in this case the university you attended—and not merely offering your own opinion of yourself. If you say, when asked, that you are a three-star general or a New York Times bestselling author or were awarded the Pulitzer Prize—all these things speak for themselves and can’t be mistaken as the arrogant self-appraisals of a vain man or woman.
Remember this principle in our age of overheated brand management: “Let another praise you and not your own lips.” As I’ve said, it will be good for your soul and bring good things into your life.