"Don't want to brag but I am the best at humility." Sound familiar?
We all bear witness to Elon Musk's Twitter humblebrags. His boastful tweets tread the line between being, at best, character eccentricities and, at worst, at least justified.
After all, if you are the richest man on earth, building rockets that go to Mars and electric cars unlike any others on the market, why wouldn't you be boastful?
Boasting about your accomplishments is a form of impression management. When Musk shows off, he's trying to influence our perceptions in his favor. He's not alone in this. We've all tried controlling the narrative.
We ought to tread cautiously though. According to the latest research, exercising your bragging rights makes people trust you less. And in business, trust is money.
Here's why we brag, why we don't like those who do, and why we all just need to stop. (According to science!)
Why we do it
Bragging has its roots in our innate drive to connect with others.
But bragging is an uglier kind of social connection. It stems from our also human need to acquire social status.
As neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga noted: When we wake up in the morning, "we don't think of triangles and squares. ... We think of where we are in relation to our peers."
Where we fall on the social hierarchy determines how much respect we get, the ratio of social resources allocated to us, and -- interestingly -- how long we live.
And if we think we're not where we should be, we brag to overcompensate.
Why others don't like it
Think of the last time that you, or someone you know, bragged about something. What was your lasting impression?
According to psychologist Susan Whitbourne, bragging brings to our cognitive fore two things. First, our relative inferiority to the braggart. Second, the braggart's own insecurity.
On the one hand, show-offs try to make us feel insecure about ourselves. They are signalling that they hold themselves to a more demanding set of standards - which basically means we're not as serious, hardworking, or visionary.
We find it difficult to trust those who nonchalantly throw us under the bus like that. How else will they be careless?
On the other hand, their need to showcase their accomplishments is really just a manifestation of their own sense of inferiority. The more they brag, the more they can convince themselves they're doing okay. And insecurity is not a trustworthy quality.
Why we should stop
Societies are not built on advertised ability. They're built on results. And results speak for themselves.
In our ancestors' hunter-gatherer communities, large-scale cooperation was achieved through structurally sound social networks. These networks were in turn achieved by associating with others who, time and time again, had shown that they were acknowledging group needs over individual interests.
You can call it mutually advantageous humility.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, more research shows how humility is an important contributor to the successful creation of a culture of cooperation and collaboration.
So, Musk, and other leaders like him, would be wise to inject a healthy dose of humility into their interactions and their company cultures. That's the real social currency.
The 15 seconds of fame a brag brings just isn't worth it.