Contrary to popular belief, it is entirely possible to be too self-deprecating.
It is extremely possible to be so very self-effacing that you wind up with no face left.
Maybe you think it’s charming or funny to say the equivalent of “oh, this old thing!” whenever anyone says anything nice about you, but it’s not. Not really.
Could be that when you feel uncomfortable with being in what you consider a power position you default to saying something like “you know, I’m making this up as fast as I can”, but – guess what? – despite your best intentions, you’re not creating a connection to other people with that sort of comment.
You’re just undermining yourself.
Because you know as well as I do that when you’re in the break room getting coffee and you say to the assembled throng of co-workers “I really have no idea what I’m doing”, that as soon as you walk out the door the chatter will be, “You know, she really shouldn’t be in that job – she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.”
So much for your idea that by running yourself down, you can blow down the barriers between yourself and others.
Self-deprecation is often deeply ingrained in our way of being. Probably it stems from the guidance we’ve received since we were able to process language – “remember, you’re no better than anyone else” and “don’t get too big for your britches” and, sometimes, “who do you think you are?”
We use self-deprecation to continue this relentless yet familiar drumbeat of messages. Because some of us have a secret worry that if we stand out too much, we’ll stand there all by ourselves. No one will invite us to sit with them at the lunch table, or any birthday parties, or to the sleepover on Saturday night.
Yes, oh, yes indeed, the workplace often dredges up all the fears of middle school.
And so some of us self-efface right down to the vanishing point – and the thing that vanishes is our ability to even (secretly, quietly) tell our own selves “well done”, let alone appropriately take credit for anything we accomplish.
Over time, that blindness to accomplishment really grinds you down. And makes you question… yourself, and whether you’re any good. Your judgment, and whether you’re smart at all. Other people, and who’s right. Then you question the entire world, and move right on to the galaxy.
Self-doubt becomes just that big.
So you’ve got to learn how to take a compliment. There’s an easy way to start – when the Big Kahuna says, “You handled that really well” take a deep breath and say:
Many leaders – especially new leaders – you know, the ones who went to a leadership training class one day in the Marriott’s Chesapeake breakout room (which happens to be the Platte breakout room in Nebraska, and the Dogwood breakout room in North Carolina, and the Pacific breakout room in California, just FYI) and did a worksheet and role-playing exercise called Always Give Credit To Your Team.
Hey, it’s always good to make sure your team gets credit – but not in a way that implies that you are unnecessary to the success of the group.
[Proving that you are in no way involved in your team's success is not great career strategy, also FYI.]
So, instead of saying, “Oh, Big Kahuna, Jamie and Maggie really did all the work”, how about saying, “Thank you. I am really proud of the way the team came together on this. Particularly, Jamie and Maggie – they did a great job.”
Look what you just did there! You took credit and you gave credit – a nice balance which totally preserves your leadership position and shines a spotlight your hard-working people.
How freakin’ smart is that?!
And since you are so very smart, next time you edge toward your default position of using undermining self-effacing self-deprecation, stop right there.
Take a minute.
Think: could I just say “thank you” and hold onto my gorgeous, leadery, accomplished face?
Oh, honey – I bet you can.