Imagine that two people are pitching their visions for an upcoming project. While their ideas are equally interesting, one person seems confident , while the other comes off as nervous and unsure.
Who are you going to choose to run point?
I’m guessing you’d pick the person who exuded confidence.
And that’s exactly why you work on building yourself up, and projecting that positive energy when you interact with others.
But beware: If you try too hard, you’ll look insecure. In fact, there are four common strategies you assume will make you look good that’ll actually backfire.
1. You Name Drop
I’ve always thought referencing an impressive, mutual contact was a great way to start a conversation with a successful person. It felt like an instant way to prove others would vouch for me.
But Quartz writer Leah Fessler gave me a whole new perspective with her argument that the habit makes you look like you have no confidence.
Fessler interviewed experts like organizational psychologist Liane Davey who said:
…[name-dropping] always reveals the same thing, which is that one doesn’t feel their accomplishments, or personal brand, speaks for itself, so they try to heighten their brand by associating with one that’s much stronger.
Fessler suggests asking the other person questions to ease into the conversation. One great option is to open with questions you’d ask in an informational interview, like what someone’s favorite part of their job is, what they find most surprising, or what they think of something major going on in the field.
2. You Always Speak Up First
Logically, it makes sense. What better way to demonstrate that you have good ideas (that you believe in!) than to share them.
However, in practice, if you’re the first person to speak every single time it looks like you’re overcompensating.
Could it be that you don’t really get what’s going on—so you throw out an idea on something you know to take the pressure off? Or, that you’re worried a colleague will outshine you? Or, that you’re worried people don’t notice your contributions?
It’s not fair, but if you always speak first, your co-workers will start to pay more attention to this pattern than your ideas.
Start jotting down your thoughts. That way, you’ll be sure not to lose those brilliant brainstorms, and you’ll be comfortable letting a teammate pipe up before you.
3. You Talk a Lot in Meetings
Maybe you’re not always jumping in with the first idea, but you’re there to add a valuable contribution to each and every point of a discussion. You’re the go-to person to share “how it’s always been done” or provide the “right” answer.
Except, if you’re being honest with yourself—and this can be a hard one to dig into and self-analyze—it could be you’re talking way too much.
From one chatterbox to another, I know it’s a struggle not to share the ideas you’re bursting with, or connect with people by asking them 20 questions (while simultaneously regaling them with your life story).
However, it can make others assume a range of negative things—that you’re not a good listener, that you only care about what you’re going to say next, and yes, that you’re too insecure to let others in the limelight.
Take Muse writer Kat Boogaard’s advice and pretend you’re “play[ing] ping pong.” Your goal should be go back and forth, so if you realize you’ve been speaking, send the conversation back to the other person.
4. You Take Credit for Your Work
You’ve probably heard that you need to talk up your accomplishments. After all, if you don’t, who will?
However, there is such a thing as taking it too far. For example, ignoring the contributions of colleagues who played a role—or calling people out and throwing them under the bus en route to accepting your accolades—makes you look petty (and like a pretty ruthless teammate).
Remember that you don’t have to accept praise in an “all or nothing” way. It’s not like your only two options are to take total credit or none at all. Say, “Thank you so much. I worked really hard on [project], and [co-worker] was a big help as well.”
At the end of the day, these attempts to look like you believe in what you’re saying almost always backfire. So rather than leaning on them to boost you up at the office, work on your
, and your
. If you’re doing awesome work and can nail how you present it, the right people will almost always support you.
Photo of person in meeting courtesy of Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author