A new study reveals that people underestimate how much others dislike their bragging. Here’s how to toot your own horn without irking.
As Do.com founder Jason Shah recently pointed out on Medium, thanks to social media and the Internet, it’s now a noisy, noisy world out there. Standards of what’s acceptable when it comes to self-promotion are shifting and uncertain.
“Imagine I came up to you in real life and said the following: ‘I was just in Forbes. Oh, and Steve loves my website. Oh, and 200 other people are talking about my Forbes article. Oh, and here’s a list of people who congratulated me.’ Ugh. How annoying. Yet from what I can tell, this is completely acceptable online today–Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.–in the form of retweeting positive content about oneself,” he writes.
He’s probably far from the only one who is confused. Where does “personal branding” end and downright bragging begin? How far can you go with helpfully highlighting your accomplishments (online or off) before you wander into the land of aggravating self-promotion?
Your bragging is more annoying than you think
For those struggling with these sorts of questions, new scientific findings offer both good and bad news. The good news first: You’re not alone. Apparently, in general we’re terrible at discerning where the boundary lines of tasteful self-promotion lie. The bad news? Scientists confirmed this by proving just how annoying others probably find your bragging.
To come to these conclusions, a team of researchers conducted a pair of studies. In the first, they asked half of a group of 75 adults to remember a time they tooted their own horn, and the other half to recall a time someone else told them about their achievements. Both groups were then asked to rate how annoying these efforts at self-promotion were to those listening to them. Perhaps it’s not a huge shock that those remembering self-promoting thought bragging was far less annoying than those asked to remember hearing someone else brag.
Next, the research team asked participants to create a social media profile. Half were told to make themselves likable and the other half were given no guidance. Turns out that those who were nudged toward self-promotion thought their profiles would get a better response than the those who simply followed their gut on what to write, while in truth, the more self-aggrandizing profiles of the self-promoters elicited worse responses from those reading them.
The conclusion for the study authors was clear: “In general, favorable impressions may be better accomplished by means of self-presentational modesty, or even self-denigration, than by outright bragging about one’s positive qualities.”
Tips for better bragging
So what’s the solution? How do you ensure your achievements don’t get lost in the chatter while avoiding annoying everyone with your bragging? New York magazine’s Science of Us blog solicited a couple of suggestions from experts in response to the research.
Carnegie Mellon psychology professor George Loewenstein suggested what he termed the ‘wing-man solution,’ i.e., “finding someone else to sing your praises.” If you can’t do that, just stay mum, he warns. Peggy Klaus, author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, also offered tips. “Keep it short, and make it interesting. Weave the braggy detail into an entertaining story,” she told Science of Us.
There’s plenty of other advice out there. Copyblogger’s Nathan Hangen draws a distinction between promoting your ideas (good) and promoting yourself (bad). “The reason that self-promotion works and self-adulation doesn’t is that self-promotion is the art of spreading ideas, concepts, and a greater vision. Self-adulation is just the promotion of accomplishments, deeds that have already been done,” he has written. James Clear has also offered plenty of tips on non-annoying self-promotion (my fave: Put listening for problems ahead of seeking opportunities).