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How fear of bullshit stops us selling ourselves

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

I recently wrote a blog about ‘boasting’ and how women are notoriously reluctant to big themselves up. I wanted to champion the notion of being more open about our achievements, instead of holding back or dumbing ourselves down for fear of being judged as too pushy, too confident, or too full or our own self-importance.
But there’s a line between selling ourselves and bullshit. And knowing the difference could help you feel more confident about sharing the good stuff.

Let me illustrate…

Recently, my husband remarked to me casually, “…did you tell the client that you’ve doubled the business for three straight years in a row?”
It caught me short. We were both looking at the same set of figures for the business but I couldn’t see it. It was almost true, but it wasn’t actually true. So, was it BS? Was he intentionally inflating our success?
He argued that he was reflecting what he saw. Sure, he rounded some bits up here and there, but what’s a little bit of positive thinking between friends? We’d be there soon enough.
I wondered at the merits of this approach. If I spoke with such confidence as he did about my business performance, wouldn’t that give people around me greater confidence in my business? And wouldn’t talking up the numbers make them a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Or, put another way, if other people are playing the game of sprinkling a little creativity here and there to sound more impressive, shouldn’t I do it too?
Perhaps. But this was bending the facts too far in my view. It set my bullshit radar off.
My BS detector is so sensitive, I can sniff it a mile off. And I’m so conscious of not wanting to be in the same bracket as bullshitters, I go to the opposite extreme by making sure there’s no whiff of blagging, bragging or bluffing.
I tell myself that I must be honourable, trustworthy and truthful at all moments. That’s what it is to be a good person.
So far, so Good Girl. Gold star for me. 
But the unintended impact of this noble, BS-free existence is that I, like many female leaders I work with, am more likely to steer clear of self-promotion altogether.
But there’s a difference between confidently selling ourselves and BS. And perhaps being clearer about the distinction is the key to allowing ourselves to be that little bit braver. Maybe, if we ladies all appreciated our successes more vocally, we’d attract more investment, better paid jobs and higher-level opportunities.

What’s the difference?

So, where’s the line between self-promotion and bullshit? For me, self-promotion is about having the confidence to share something we’re proud of. It’s a reflection of the facts. BS on the other hand, is about painting an inaccurate picture to impress people.
BS is that cringey feeling when you hear a colleague take credit for something they didn’t really do. Or that ‘yuck’ response reserved for sales people who you know are over-hyping their product. Or the advisor who pretends he (usually it’s a he, sorry chaps) knows all about something, just so it doesn’t look stupid. It’s inflating the truth for personal gain and it really sucks.
Going back to the story about the sales figures in my business for a minute. The fact is that I haven’t doubled the business year on year for the past three years. But I have more than trebled my business in the same time. And had a child.
Yet it hadn’t crossed my mind to share something like that. And maybe it’s worth a bit of self-promotion, huh?
Perhaps we need to draw a thicker line between self-promotion and BS – with a big fat marker pen. Then we might be more inclined to share what we’re proud of, pleased with, and excited about, rather than saying nothing at all.
Worth a thought…

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

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