Friday, May 01, 2015

Why People Hate Humblebraggers

"I am so tired of constantly being asked for my autograph. Can't I just have some privacy?"

That's what we call a humblebrag. A boastful statement uttered by a complete jerkface in a feeble attempt at false modesty.

We usually see humblebrags on Facebook and Twitter, where people love to share their good news (or too-good-to-be-true news, which makes us secretly hate them), but they want to make it seem as if the good news is a burden.

"I hate to think what the potholes around town are doing to my brand new Jaguar."

"My new job has me flying to Paris. Again. That's the third time in three months. #jetlagged."

"The last time I ate this much fresh lobster, I was full the entire next day."

That's too bad. What a difficult burden you must carry. Let's take up a collection and see if we can make your life less terrible.

I know one guy who hates humblebragging so much, he tweets about particularly heinous humblebrags. He once even called out John "Fault In Our Stars" Green on Twitter for a humblebrag photo with Snoop Dogg.

This guy also hates the misuse of the word "humbled," as in "I'm humbled by all your kind wishes." Instead, we should say we're "honored" or "privileged." "Humbled" means to be lowered in dignity, or to be decisively defeated by an opponent.

And then he reminds us that he learned all this at a fancy private university.

But he's got a point: it turns out humblebragging may actually backfire on the humblebraggarts.

According to an article in New York Magazine (official motto: "Our mom says we're just as good as The New Yorker"), humblebraggers are actually liked less than complainers, and even less than full-on braggers.

In short, humblebragging doesn't work, and you should stop it immediately. This is why no one likes you.

In a study done by researchers at Harvard Business School (official motto: "I went here because my family would miss me if I went to Oxford"), they tested humblebragging in five different experiments to see what people thought of the falsely modest claims.

In one experiment, they asked 300 people to rate a person who said one of these statements: a complaint ("I'm am so bored"), a brag ("people mistake me for a model"), or a humblebrag ("I'm so bored of people mistaking me for a model").

In their paper, "Humblebragging: A Distinct – And Ineffective – Self-Presentation Strategy," the researchers found that complainers are rated as the most sincere, with braggers in second place, while humblebraggers were rated as the least sincere and least liked.

Why would this be? Mom always said nobody likes a complainer. (She also said no one likes a tattletale, but that didn't seem to stop my sister.) So why would a complainer be liked more than a bragger or a humblebragger?

It has to do with authenticity and honesty. Like it or not, at least the complainer is being honest. "I'm so tired." "It's too hot outside." "My feet hurt." We may get tired of their constant griping, but at least they're being honest about their feelings.

And the bragger is being honest too, in their own way. "I get hit on constantly." "Check out my new car." "I love my expensive new shoes." We definitely get tired of the bragger, who can't stop yammering about their good fortune. But again, they're not lying, they're just full of themselves.

It's the humblebragger who's doing themselves more harm than good. "I'm so tired of being hit on all the time." "It's too hot to drive my new convertible." "My Jimmy Choos hurt my feet."

In the end, the Harvard researchers conclude that if you want to make yourself look good, you're better off complaining than bragging. But if you have to brag, at least don't humblebrag.

"Faced with the choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be self-promoters should choose the former — and at least reap the rewards of seeming sincere."

Translation: Seriously, no one likes you when you do that.

I grew up in the days when image and reputation ruled everything, when people cared what the neighbors thought, and families with "reputations to uphold" tried to make everyone believe they didn't have any problems.

That's all changed, thanks to social media.

While it has forced us all to live more transparent and honest lives, it's also made us more narcissistic and self-centered. But there's a smidgen of humility left in most of us, given that people try to disguise their overt bragging as just another burden to carry through life.

At least that's what I think. I get tired of being right all the time.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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  1. As always, thank you for the laugh, Erik!

    1. Not sure why it has my name that way but it's Denise :)


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