Tooting Your Horn

Tooting Your Horn

As I was leaving a client’s office after a meeting, he asked if I had a document that he’d apparently just made up. While digging back into my snapped, zipped, and stuffed bag, aware of taking up time in silent air space, I heard myself say, “I’m so disorganized, who knows what’s in here.”


And untrue! I am, in fact, organized to the point of obsession, and disorganized is not a trait that I’d like my clients to associate with me. So what was that about?

In this case it was mostly about making noise to fill up space. The choice to demean myself may have been an effort to placate the toe-tapping client by offering him a moment of feeling superior while he had to wait for me. But again: what’s that about?! I’ll take a hit because you have to wait a minute? In fact, I’ll administer the hit myself! Oh dear.

If we think of one person’s impression of another as a mix of positive and negative perceptions, we don’t want to be offering negatives. Maybe in the above situation we can’t think of a positive response (“Of course I have it! I like to be prepared for anything, good girl scout that I am!”), but something neutral is preferable to bashing ourselves.

Then I thought of other ways we broadcast our shortcomings:

– “Oh you know me. I can’t do anything with math!”

– “Don’t ask me~ I’m a terrible speller.”

– “Yes, I finally got something right.”

– “It must be simple if I could do it.”

– “If there’s a way to get out of it, I’ll find it.”

– “Thanks, but they make my ankles look fat.”

Comments like these are endless. I’m sure you’re thinking of a few that you’ve tossed out. For some people, it seems like a default communication style. When asked about this behavior, these self-flagellating folks say:

– Everyone knows I’m kidding!

– They know the real me.

– We aren’t supposed to talk about ourselves.

– People will think I’m stuck up.

– Everyone does that.

Women seem to be especially guilty of this, which may reflect some early girly teaching. So, what’s wrong with voicing these self-putdowns? Maybe nothing is wrong, depending on how you want others to see you, but the You that others see is not only what you do and how you look and how you manage your world, and what shoes you wear, but what you tell them about yourself. Even if they don’t think “Wow, is she stupid about math.” They might think “Wow, is she stupid to SAY she is stupid about math.” Or “Wow, is she down on herself.”

Or none of these. But somewhere there is a blink that flashes “Negative.” Why invite this? You’re the one who can control your image and in simplest terms, here are the choices:




Many of us will not be preceded in our daily peregrinations (frontier word alert!) by a herald with a trumpet, so the job of promoting our fine selves falls to us. We have to toot our own horns.

How we do this has a lot to do with words and communication, so try this:

Listen to yourself and notice any self put-downs that creep from your lips;

Stop saying them;

Make a list of the characteristics you’d like others to think you have;

Think of ways you can mention those characteristics.

At the very least, remember the Mom advice: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.

If you aren’t ready to pick up your horn, at least put down the whip.

Toot on!