We all know that humblebrags are irritating, but how irritating, exactly? Finally, a team of Harvard researchers have stepped in to answer this pressing question.
The researchers defined a humblebrag as a boast couched in a complaint. If you've ever said something along the lines of, "It is so tiresome to be constantly mistaken for a supermodel," then you've committed a humblebrag. (All right, maybe you've complained about how much time it takes to follow up on all the investor interest in your company. Same thing.)
But does humblebragging work? When you complain about burdens of being an investor favorite, do your friends and loved ones understand the unique angst that comes with such exalted status?
Well, no. In fact, the researchers found, a humblebrag makes you sound insincere. And people who are insincere are not liked. If you're in the mood to boast, or you need to show off your accomplishments, you're better off being straightforward and bragging outright. Likewise, if you're feeling whiny, just complain. Turns out people are fairly sympathetic to complainers, and only slightly less enamored of those who complain. Humblebraggers are last on the list.
The researchers did a number of experiments to figure this out, but to me the most clever was a replica of the one situation in which even the most straightforward among us is going to be tempted to humblebrag: The job interview. Specifically, the part of the interview where you're asked, "So, what's your greatest weakness?"
The researchers asked 122 students to answer that question the way they would in a job interview, getting answers including: "My inability not to be nice to co-workers" (ouch) and "I'm not always the best at staying organized."
Some 73 percent of students offered up a humblebrag when asked to describe a weakness. Just 27 percent admitted to a real weakness. But when a set of volunteers rated the responses based on how likely they were to hire each person, the minority of people who admitted to "real" flaws were perceived as more honest, and therefore as better hires.
Although, of course, they'd never be the ones to tell you that themselves.