No one wants to be perceived as the annoying person in any social situation. But what if you are that person and don't even know it?
A new study from researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explored humblebragging and came to a definitive conclusion: Humblebraggers are less liked than people who just normally brag. Even complainers were better liked. What's more, humblebraggers were also perceived to be less competent.
Here's why: At least braggarts and complainers are being sincere. They're not trying to mask anything. Humblebragging feels disingenuous.
Why we feel the need to humblebrag
The researchers conducted nine studies, including a weeklong diary study, a field experiment, and a survey. The survey portion included asking 646 people if they could recall recently hearing a humblebrag; 70 percent said they had. The researchers published their results in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The researchers zeroed in on two distinct types of humblebrag: complaint-based and humility-based. "We show that people choose to deploy humblebrags particularly when motivated to both elicit sympathy and impress others," they wrote in the study's abstract.
"I can't believe I won this award/got that job/got this promotion. I totally don't deserve it!" That's a humility-based humblebrag.
"I got tapped for yet another one of Karen's projects. I'm going to be soooooo busy these next few months!" That's a complaint-based humblebrag, and it's the more common of the two.
Neither is very effective.
"You think, as the humblebragger, that it's the best of both worlds, but what we show is that sincerity is actually the key ingredient," Ovul Sezer told Time. She was one of the study's authors and is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Flat-out boasting about an accomplishment feels sleazy. We want people to recognize said accomplishment, but we don't want to just come out and celebrate ourselves. So we try to back into it all sly-like.
Instead, the humblebrag move just ends up backfiring. Because people can see right through it. They know you're trying to show off. So why not just show off instead? The study reveals even boasting your own accomplishments will do more for your likability.
"If you want to announce something, go with the brag and at least own your self-promotion and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions," Sezer told Time.
Ideally, you'd find someone else to wax poetic about your accomplishments. Then everyone will know why you're so great (and you don't have to worry about screwing this whole bragging thing up).
Or better yet, why not just keep your mouth shut? What do you gain by ensuring everyone around you knows how amazing/well-traveled/successful/accomplished you are? Real humility is a virtue. Not the humility-based humblebrag kind.