Why is it hard to talk about myself positively when people ask about my experience and skills?

In interviews and meetings, even at parties, when we have to talk about ourselves we can sometimes come across as self-deprecating and overly modest & shy. Or, worse, we may come across as vain, arrogant, full of ourselves.

Let’s unpack what we’re doing when we speak about our experiences, skills or achievements…

What is our goal? Do we want people to be impressed by us? Or do we want to build a lasting bond with the other person, to develop a relationship? Surely it’s the latter…

On the other hand, for those of us who are shy and reticent when we meet others and have to talk about ourselves: why is that? A large part of it is that we are afraid of being judged – possibly misjudged – and we don’t want to give anyone any ammunition to expose or attack us with.  Perhaps we also feel that being ‘humble’ or self-deprecating will make us seem selfless or generous.  Unfortunately, saying little about ourselves often sends a different message: that you don’t consider your audience important enough to bother sharing yourself with them. Impressing people with your composure and humility is more likely to leave them cold than fill them with warmth and admiration.

When we aim to impress people, we want them to think we’re great. But even though that might feel good for a few moments (our ego gets a little kick), what we’ve actually done is set ourselves apart from them, even above them.  They might admire us, but most people won’t feel inclined to share with us in return or help us reach our goals. If anything, it is more likely to make people feel competitive.

Why? Because everyone has their own goals to worry about. If you impress people, they may think you’re great, but that will probably be where their immediate interest ends.

Instead of impressing people, we should try to include them. If we share our own achievements and experience as a means to find out about the other person, to discover what we have in common, they are going to enjoy the interaction much more.  This will also have 2 even more positive effects:

1) They will feel that you care about them, and how their experience and skills match yours.

2) They will automatically start to think about how you could help each other to reach your goals, explore your shared interests and represent your shared values.

This may be why we describe positive self-reflection as ‘sharing’ rather than simply describing ourselves. 

Imagine if every time you meet someone new and share something about yourself you’re building a lasting bond, based on shared passions, goals and values. Wouldn’t that add a huge amount of value to all of your interactions?  It would also be a lot more fun!

As we move through life we should build our network of allies, friends and acquaintances actively.  We never know when someone can help us towards our goals in a big way, simply after a chance meeting.

As always, key insights come from putting yourself logically into other peoples’ shoes: it’s incredibly boring to listen to someone talk about themselves; it’s incredibly interesting to hear someone explore how their background, skills and experience might be of interest to you!

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