Bragging Nicely

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2006

Like most of us, Peggy Klaus grew up hearing aphorisms like "Pride comes before the fall," and "Humility is a virtue." It's difficult for people to say good things about themselves to others. But in this day and age, says Klaus, author of BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, keeping mum about your successes won't get you very far in the business world.

"I grew up with a father who said, 'Don't toot your own horn,'" says Klaus. "It's a lovely sentiment, but it doesn't hold true anymore. The only way people will know about your accomplishments is if you tell them. With mergers and acquisitions, with downsizing, our employers are all doing two or three jobs, and they don't have time to worry about you. It's really up to the individual to guide your own career."

Klaus is a national expert on bragology, or the art of promoting yourself to get ahead in the business world. She believes there is a middle ground between crass boasting and self-deprecating humility, and that is a way of talking about one's accomplishments in a gracious, conversational and story-like manner. Through seminars, workshops and group and private coaching, she helps clients develop what she calls "bragalogues," a combination of a monologue and "tooting your own horn."

It's what she has people practice for a seconds-long elevator ride, an introduction at cocktail parties, and a conversational opener at business functions. Klaus helps clients create interesting little stories to answer the usual, "What do you do?" question. This is important even in a purely social context, she says, because you never know who you can impress who may later turn out to be a great business contact.

The professional world offers plenty of opportunities to brag. In meetings, when it is your turn to give a status report, make sure you mention your accomplishments, for example, reaching a tough client by telephone. At the water cooler, say, "Listen, I just had to tell somebody; I talked to Mr. Smith on the phone today." Mention the call casually in the cafeteria or in an e-mail.

The key, says Klaus, is to be passionate, interesting and not repetitive. "Practice, practice, practice," she says. "Remember to make it interesting; use tidbits of memorable and impressive information. Paraphrase so it sounds conversational. Try it out on friends first, and if someone is talking about you, make sure the person has their facts straight."

Klaus acknowledges that it is not easy to do. She learned the hard way after moving to Los Angeles to direct and produce, and lost numerous jobs because she couldn't package herself positively. Klaus constructed a bragalogue and soon was getting jobs again. She took her newfound knowledge on the road and started teaching seminars; her book came out in 2003. Over the years, Klaus has managed to turn a few lives around, including a woman who rekindled a relationship with her teen-age sons by telling them about her pre-motherhood life as a journalist, and a woman who enjoyed a high school reunion after taking pride in her accomplishments. Three female vice presidents of a San Francisco bank attended a Klaus seminar because they were fearful of asking for a promotion. Afterwards, says Klaus, all three were promoted to managing director positions.

"It's given people permission to look at what they've done and take pride in it," says Klaus. "We do beat ourselves up a lot."


1. Get over the self-promotion myths that hold you back.

Dispel myths such as "A job well done speaks for itself," "Good girls don't brag," "Humility gets you noticed" and "Bragging is just for performance reviews."

2. Learn the art of the brag.

"Most people think they have two choices when it comes to self-promotion: remaining obscure or sounding obnoxious," says Klaus. "But there is actually an artful middle ground: a way of turning the spotlight on yourself without looking and feeling like a walking billboard." Check out her self-evaluation questionnaire at to develop ideas for your bragalogue.

3. Move from "we" to "me."

"Acknowledge the importance of teamwork, then move on to say what you learned and achieved from a group project," says Klaus. "To trick yourself out of feeling self-conscious, pretend you're talking about a good friend instead of yourself."

4. Be enthusiastic.

Let your good news show in the tone of your voice. After all, says Klaus, if you can't get excited about your achievements, how can you expect others to be?

5. Accept the praise.

"Many people, especially women, deflect compliments," says Klaus. "Instead, smile, look the person in the eye and say, 'Thanks. Coming from you that really means a lot.' You'll be taking the person's compliment graciously while flattering him or her at the same time."

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