Hi, I'm Isaac.

I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Backfiring Brags

Backfiring Brags

When you’re starting full time work, you may feel a need to do a bit of posturing – saying things that demonstrate your professionalism.

This generally stems from a place of insecurity, and can sometimes be a good thing.
By proving that you speak the language (and aren’t as dumb as a typical 21 year old), you show your colleagues that you are a good fit for the team (and therefore they hopefully won’t question why you’re here).

The problem is, some of the traits that sound professional are actually awful.
By publicly celebrating them, you give off the wrong impression.
Here are some of the worst brag points I’ve repeatedly heard first-hand:

How little you sleep

This one comes up a lot with leaders.
I think it’s meant to show your dedication and work ethic, but it backfires.

By revealing that you only get 5 hours sleep, you either have way too much work on your plate, or can’t manage your time.
At first it’s a strength, but teams that are that busy are rarely pleasant.

By revealing that you only need 5 hours sleep… what are we supposed to do with that information?
Change our own biology?
Give you a round of applause?
The rest of us do need a good sleep, are we somehow weak?

People you’ve fired

I’ve heard several friends and colleagues boast about their gleeful willingness to fire a team member – or whole team – at the drop of a hat.

If a member of your team needs to go – maybe they broke the rules, or damaged the culture -  by all means get rid of them.

Losing a job is devastating – for the person, for their family, for the rest of the team.
To speak trivially about cutting people is terrible for morale.
Either the boaster doesn’t understand how serious it is, or they do – and both are alarming.
Why would people want to work for you if you take joy in firing your team?

Certain kinds of drinking stories

Everyone loves a story that involves alcohol - they’re funny and they’re humanizing.
Enjoying a few drinks is a part of life.
Drinking so much that you throw up makes you an idiot.

If your story ends with you being unable to handle your alcohol, or you getting arrested, maybe don’t tell it at work.
Not because it’s inappropriate, but because it makes a terrible impression, and shows that you can’t control your actions.

Working more than 60 hours a week

There are times when we need to go above and beyond to get the job done.
Long weeks, late nights, urgent deadlines that require a Herculean effort.
Lots of those make for great stories too.

There’s a difference between that, and "humblebragging" about your huge workload.
Your lack of work/life balance isn’t a badge of honour.

If you’re saying it to show off to your superiors, keep your mouth shut and actually do the work, it’s much more impressive.
If you’re saying it to your team, they aren’t impressed, in fact they probably feel awkward.
Their contracts say 40 hours a week, are they inadequate for not constantly doing 20-30 extra hours?

How much you spent on extravagances

When you’re making serious money, there’s no doubt that you deserve to treat yourself.
Find the things that make you happy and spend away.

Casually mentioning that you spend $380 per haircut, or $30,000 on a watch doesn’t win you many friends.
Put it down to Tall Poppy Syndrome if that makes you feel better.

Don’t change your purchases, just don’t rub them in the faces of your colleagues - they may not share your excitement.

How you never take a sick day

There are two ways this story can be taken:
1)    You genuinely never get sick and have some sort of magical immunity.
2)    You DO get sick, and then come in to work to infect everyone else so as to not break your “record”.

The first one is great for you, but a surprisingly dull anecdote.
The second is bad news for your teammates, who are now cooped up with someone who should have stayed home.


The moral of this isn’t “Don’t brag”
Instead it’s “The things you may find impressive don’t translate into positive stories”
By all means, buy fancy things, get drunk, hardly sleep, fire people and never get sick.
Just don’t expect those around you to be impressed by the story.

So much of an office’s culture is based on trust and shared experience.
Anything that can harm that trust or create barriers can’t possibly be good.


If you’re interested in the topic of workplace culture, I highly recommend The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, and Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday.



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