How To Brag Right
Yes, you should sell yourself, but slow your roll, champ.

February 16, 2012

Yes, you should sell yourself, but slow your roll, champ.

She’s gorgeous, funny

Just your type. You’ve locked eyes twice. The time for introductions is now. You’re not a bad-looking dude, but in order to really sweep this woman off her feet, you’ll need to let her know that you’re the full package – a man of depth, promise and expertise in all the areas she cares about. But as you snap your collar and start your approach, you’re in a quandary: how do you talk yourself up without looking like a conceited ass? Go to any club and you’ll see smart, successful men striving to put their best foot forward, yet sticking it straight in their mouth. “The problem is that men are never really taught when to sing their own praises and when not to,” says Peggy Klaus, author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It (R133 “So guys end up delivering showy monologues right away, and that turns women off.” Don’t let anxiety about this leave you under-playing yourself. Here’s your five-point plan.

1. Let enthusiasm speak for you

As an emotion, pride gets a bum rap. It’s one of the seven deadly sins, after all. But unlike gluttony or sloth, pride can be a turn-on, say researchers at the University of British Columbia. They had women view photos of men exhibiting shame, happiness and pride, and asked them to rate the guys’ attractiveness. The ladies favoured the men who posed with obvious confidence. Why do women dig such posturing? Outward projections of pride signal competence and high status, says the 2011 study’s co-author, Dr Jessica Tracy. Just don’t overdo it. “Women want men who can function socially,” she says. “Excessive male dominance can lower a man’s likability and detract from his ability to keep a group together.”

Your play
Focus on the foundations of your pride, not the results of it. “If you’re passionate about what you do, women will pick up on it,” says dating coach David Wygant. “Then you don’t even need to blow your own horn.” Maybe it’s the start-up business you’re helping to grow, or your trek up Kilimanjaro. Whatever it is, talk about why it’s so special to you. Your joie de vivre will radiate and she’ll wonder if she can siphon off some of that energy for herself.

2. Turn the tables

“What do you like to do on weekends?” “Do you have a favourite restaurant?” Posing such questions usually results in the same questions being fired back at you. It’s a perfect way to learn about someone and, if you do it right, to sneak in some intel about yourself. But the operation can be easily bungled. “I recently did a date-simulation exercise with a client and he asked me if I had any pets,” says psychologist Dr Ann Demarais, author of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You (R143 “He barely registered my answer, and then he told me that he had some fish, some of which were at his city flat and others at his holiday home.” Demarais calls that a “self-disclosure agenda”. Had this guy known about new research from the University of Haifa, in Israel, he would have realised that self-promoters receive more positive responses if the boasts seem natural in the context of a conversation.

Your play
Weave nuggets about yourself into the conversation. Suppose you’ve done a lot of travelling. You could ask her where in the world she’d most like to go. If she mentions an exotic locale that you’ve visited too, recommend some hidden beach or under-the-radar restaurant. You’re turning the talk back to her, which she’ll appreciate, while also adding opportunities to appropriately touch on the more enticing aspects of your life. You’re turning her into your wingman.

3. Time it right

You’re on a date, wondering when to reel her in with some impressive data: your top marks at university, your enduring friendship with a celebrity’s veterinarian. When it comes to deft self-promotion, pace yourself. Researcher Dr Dianne Tice recommends splitting it into two phases: a shot of “I’m kind of a big deal” followed by a humility chaser to keep things light. “Let’s say you run marathons,” Tice says. “In the self-promoting phase, just mention that you’ve run some races. Then, when the subject comes up again later, say, ‘I’ve run a couple of marathons, but they’re really intense!’ She’ll probably follow up by noting how impressive simply finishing is.” You’ve outsourced the singing of your praises to her. Shrewd.

Your play
If you’re not seeing any natural openings, consider an even stealthier approach. A new University of North Carolina and University of Pennsylvania study suggests that people are more receptive to boasting when they’re giving you less than their full attention. Distracted audiences are more likely to retain only a vague awareness of the source of the information and thus fail to penalise self-promoters. Hand her the cocktail list. While she’s reading the descriptions, mention which one you drank to celebrate your promotion.

4. Show, don’t tell

Trying to sell yourself over the deafening din of a packed bar is tough. Fortunately, you can project many of your key qualities without even opening your mouth. Men and women constantly display and interpret an array of non-verbal signals. “Not only can you communicate status more subtly and acceptably with posture, clothing and gestures,” says Dr Dana Carney, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s graduate school of business, “but you can also signal these attributes to a large number of people.” If you’re displaying a dominant posture among other men, for instance, women will sense that you enjoy good standing within the group. That’s an indication that you’re a successful, socially adept person. Women like that.

Your play
Broadcast that you’re comfortable and self-assured. “When you walk into a room, keep your head high and shoulders squared off,” says Dr Amy Cuddy, an assistant professor at Harvard’s business school. “Take up some territory by placing your feet shoulder-width apart. Don’t fold your arms in front of your chest; keep an open posture. Occupy extra space with your body language.”

5. Downplay your assets

A dab of self-deprecation can billboard your better qualities. “The ability to laugh at one’s foibles is attractive,” says Demarais. “It shows that you have the confidence to be vulnerable.” While bragging about your own competence indicates that you know what you’re doing, there’s a trade-off between competence and likability. Throwing in a few witty, self-directed digs lets you have it both ways.

Your play
Be playfully dismissive of your achievements. To wit: “Yeah, I went to varsity on a scholarship, but I was the worst student they ever had.” If the talk’s turning racy, you can even add humour to a sexual boast: “I’ve never had any complaints. Well, nothing in writing.” The fact that you’re comfortable enough to kid about your sexual skills signals that you’re confident about them. But again, don’t overdo it. If your quip has too hard of an edge, you may be telegraphing a degree of insecurity. That’s never going to work. You’re a man with a lot to offer. All you have to do is tweak the environment so that she discovers it, seemingly for herself.

When it comes to deft self-promotion, pace yourself