Take it from someone who has lived abroad for many years in a variety of countries--Americans don't generally have a reputation for being a bunch of shrinking violets. As a culture, we're pretty comfortable with tooting our own horns and publicly discussing our successes. But even the most brag-happy Americans realize that self-promotion can often cross the line into unhelpful and annoying.
And if they don't, there's research to prove it. One study, for instance, investigated that all-pervasive form of self-aggrandizement, the carefully curated social-media page. The research team found that profiles that were not actively attempting to polish the truth actually got a better response than those that tried to present a glorified version of the subject's life. In this situation and many others, bragging can backfire, simply annoying others rather than impressing them.
When bragging actually pays off
So where's the line? If you're a believer in putting your best foot forward and making sure the world is aware of your accomplishments, when and how can you do so without inadvertently denting others' opinions of you?
New research out of Wharton provides an answer. The key, according to marketing professor Deborah Small, who participated in the study, is simply to ensure you're not telling people stuff they already know. "The key finding is that bragging only pays in situations for which bragging provides new [information]," she explained to Knowledge@Wharton. Overkill and repetition, in other words, are the twin killers of effective self-promotion.
Tips for better bragging
If this Wharton study offers some guidance on when to brag (answer: when the other party genuinely doesn't have essential information about your character or capabilities), it still doesn't provide any advice on how to brag most effectively. Handily, other experts have offered suggestions, and New York magazine's Science of Us blog has rounded them up. They include the wingman solution (get someone else to sing your praises for you) and the tall tale technique (distract others by weaving your self-promotion into a detailed and entertaining story).