In both our social and professional interactions, we commonly focus on managing the impressions that others form of us, especially when these others do not know us well. In fact, when we first approach these situations and stakes are high (such as during a job interview, a meeting with a new client, or an important first date), we often receive the same advice from colleagues, mentors, and friends: try to make a good impression. After all, making a positive impression on others often translates into important long-term outcomes, such as getting the job or starting a romantic relationship. Though this is generally good advice, our intuitions on what types of strategies will create a positive impression are often wrong.
While we are naturally nervous about revealing our weaknesses or outright bragging about our strengths, doing so often is more effective than saying things that could make us seem inauthentic or insincere. A case in point is “humblebragging,” a particular type of self-promotion that, thanks to social media, has become ubiquitous. Here are some examples:
- “I find it incomprehensible that I’m booking my life past July of next year right now. It’s too much!”
- “I have got to stop saying, ‘Yes,’ to every interview request. That last nine minutes felt like a week.”
- “Graduating from two universities means you get double the calls asking for donations. So pushy and annoying!”
Humblebragging allows people to highlight positive aspects of their lives while attempting to appear modest by masking the “good news” as a complaint. On social media, people Tweet or update their Facebook statuses with their achievements and good fortune in the guise of complaints to gain validation in the form of “likes,” comments, and so on.
But humblebragging isn’t confined to social media. Consider one of the most common job interview questions, “What’s your greatest weakness?” Think about the last time you asked this question or had to answer it. I bet that, depending on your role, you either heard or crafted an artful response that reframed a flaw as something positive: “I’m such a perfectionist that I drive myself crazy” or “I tend to work too hard, which can take a toll on my personal life.”
Whether on social media, in interviews, or in any other type of social or professional interaction, people humblebrag to try to make a positive impression on others without appearing vain. But, as it turns out, humblebragging frequently fails.