How Would You Like People to Describe You? (Avoiding Backdoor Braggadocio)

I work with clients whose answer to that question is always in the negative. They will say things like, “Oh, they probably think I’m a boor,” or, “uninspiring.” Vocabulary aside (after all, you don’t hear the word boor used in everyday conversation), I am struck by how quickly they self-immolate.

Long ago I coined the term “backdoor braggadocio” to explain this behavior. To wit, we engage in self-deprecating talk as a way of inviting people to say, “now, now, that’s not true. You are terrific!” I have certainly been guilty of it in my life, but had it beat out of me by some rather talented therapists, good friends, and my wife.

The goal, of course, is to arrive at a list of the words you’d like people to use when describing you – a list that neither engages in backdoor braggadocio nor trumpets strengths we do not possess. In other words, a list of “real” things, the real ways that people would describe you.

Fair warning: Such a list can be painful to behold.

In my list, I have the word “terse.” At first, the word terse can be off-putting, for it is the second definition from the OED that people seize upon: abrupt. The first definition is the one I prefer: sparing in the use of words. Without question, in most of my encounters with people, I am sparing in my use of words. Ergo, terse.

There are times when I am indeed abrupt, but it is not on my list. If I am abrupt, it is not my intention to be so. I would hope that abrupt is not a word people would use to describe me.

Anyway, all of this comes in handy when you are building out a new self-image or engaging in the repair of an old one. Or, perhaps most importantly, when you are interviewing for a job! Engaging in the exercise of listing the words can help you when asked the typical platitudinal interview questions that uninspired interviewers resort to.

You know the ones of which I speak. For example, “How would you describe yourself?” Honest to God, I cannot think of a more banal question. If you interview at Microsoft or Google, you will never get that question. They are more likely to ask you what “banal” means.

But if you do get asked that question, avoid answering it in a hasty, canned way, lest you end up sounding like everyone else. Instead, spice up your answer! Tell them about your recent strengths finder inventory (I have posted about this before) and the resulting top five strengths you carry with you.

I think of how I might answer the following question, “Do you consider yourself a hard worker?”

Now, on the surface, that is a softball, closed-ended question, to which even your basic idiot would answer a simple “yes.”

Instead, I would urge you to summon up your list of the words people have used to describe you, and fire back, “Well, I am often told that my energy is infectious, and not often in a good way either. I work as many hours as it takes to get a job done right, and because of my Activator Strength (from the strengths inventory), I am often the first to get moving on a project.”

Can you see how you took a stupid question and turned it into a referenceable answer?

Maybe not so stupid, after all:

Interviewers ask this question for a couple of reasons: to hear where you place the emphasis in your description and to see how quickly and creatively you can think on the spot. Don’t give the interviewer the same answers everybody else gives. Think about new ways to get your message across and sell yourself. Spice Up Your Answers. — Joanne Richard

Make a list of personality traits that describe you. Determine the qualities you would like people to remember after having met you. And if some of the words you use are, well, stretch goals of a sort, then all the better! This is how change occurs!

Finally, all of this goes to a healthy sense of self-awareness. And self-awareness is nothing more or less than the residue of self-reflection.

Try it sometime – you might be surprised by the person you see in the mirror!




About Dr Joseph Russo

Born and raised in Woodland Hills, California; now residing in Laramie, Wyoming (or "Laradise" as we call it, for good reason), with my wife Cindy, our little schnauzer, Macy Mae, and a cat named Markie. I hold a BBA from Cal State Northridge and an MBA from the University of Nevada at Reno. My first career was in business, for some 25+ years. In 2007, I shifted gears and entered the helping professions as a mental health counselor. I earned an MA in Educational Psychology and a Doctorate (PhD) in Counselor Education and Supervision. In my spare time I enjoy mentoring young and not-so-young business and non-profit executives as they go about growing their businesses and presence. I also teach part-time at the University of Wyoming, in both the Colleges of Education and Business.
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