Be a Signal in the Noise

Be a Signal in the Noise

Conversation With Friends welcomes Meredith Fineman ’05 to discuss her book, Brag Better.

This February, Sidwell Friends brought back its signature Conversations With Friends event series for a deep dive on the fine art of bragging. Meredith Fineman ’05—a publicist, personal brand expert, media trainer, executive coach, and the author of Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion (Portfolio, 2020)—is on a mission to redefine “bragging” and “bragging better” as “stating true facts about your work strategically and cohesively to advance your goals.” 

Fineman spoke with Lory Ivey Alexander ’97, a lawyer, writer, and contemporary visual artist whose artwork was recently collected by the District for the city’s permanent collection. Alexander started out by asking Fineman why bragging, which can seem so negative to many, is actually vital in the workplace. “With social media platforms like TikTok, there is just so much misinformation and disinformation out there,” Fineman said. “The attention economy is really threatening to a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable sharing in those public spaces—particularly for women and nontraditional voices.”

For Fineman, amplifying those unheard messages is central to her ethos. “Championing other people’s voices in general is a tentpole of Sidwell’s values, and it is more important than ever,” she said. “In our media landscape, which over the past 10 years has become even more egregious, the volume and noise does not match the substance or truth.” Paradoxically people who are unqualified to talk about various topics seem to shout the loudest while “the qualified, quiet people who have done the work don't know how to talk about it.” 

Fineman says that in a landscape of bluster, there’s also a lot of “imposter syndrome,” which is the feeling that you are either not qualified to be doing what you're doing or that you are a fake—and either way, everyone will soon discover this about you. “A lot of the human experience is just pretending, but that's different from being good at your job,” Fineman said. “It's very linked to this idea of being afraid to talk positively about your work or brag. That is, it affects the wrong people.” A fear that you are bad at your job, she said, is not usually a fear of people who are actually bad at their jobs. “And so, what I get very nervous about is that instead of figuring out a way to brag better, it feels okay to choose silence,” she said. “That's a much more dangerous option to me and to society at large. There are tremendous forces at play telling you your voice doesn't matter. I believe you should try, anyway.”

Ultimately, Fineman sees bragging not as immodesty but accuracy. “Bragging is simply stating facts,” she said. “You've done the work. It's not untrue, it's not embellishment, it's not lies. These are facts that need to be shared, and they need to be shared for purposes of your work and for the purposes of the people you work with. These days, if you don't say exactly what you're doing, someone can't tell. There is no more happenstance. There's no more stopping by someone's desk or running into someone.” Sharing what you are doing well is actually a service to an organization.

To that end, Fineman coaches people on filling out self-evaluations. She recommends keeping track of wins along the way so they aren’t forgotten at the end of the year. She asks people to define their visibility goals (a promotion, more confidence, new job, to stand on stage, etc.). And she encourages everyone to practice bragging (as opposed to narcissism) to showcase pride in their work. “I would rather you swing for the fences,” she said, “than stay silent.”

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