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Study Finds Workplace Braggarts Better Be Able to Back It Up

Whether you're applying for a new job, hoping for a promotion or running for President of the United States, you'll need to make a strong case for why you should get the job over somebody else. You'll need to brag about yourself.

But a new study finds if you're going to get your brag on, then you'd better be able to back it up with tangible results! Oh, no. Maybe it's good that we don't have to quantify our Facebook status updates yet? Bragging makes the modern world go round, believe me.

You'll have a few choices to make before bragging about your background. Will you brag until you can't brag no more? Or will you take a more economical approach by focusing your boasts on the most relevant details to your argument? Go ahead and drop the H(arvard) bomb, but only once during the first date or you'll look obnoxious.

You might also choose not to brag, saying very little (or nothing at all) about your accomplishments. You'll let the results speak for themselves on paper. This practice is an old-timey concept called "humility."**

So what will you do when it's your turn to brag about yourself? Here's some advice for getting it right.

Why Braggarts Need To Back It Up
Brown University researchers took the time to analyze what, exactly, we get out of being humble vs. being boastful. They had 400 online study participants read a series of short letters written by imaginary people who described how they had performed on an exam. Some of the letters were incredibly boastful, while other letters where incredibly humble. The study participants were then shown the imaginary person's fake test score so they could get a fuller picture of the person.

What did the researchers learn? I'll let the official press release explain. (Not to brag or anything, but I like to read short study summaries):

The participants judged the people who bragged about their intelligence and scored high as the most competent. They were even judged as more competent than people who scored high but said they scored low, suggesting that when competence is the issue, it pays to advertise. But correct braggers were not seen as any more moral than people who self-effaced, whether the self-effacers were actually smart or not. In fact, those who claimed to be worse than average were seen as more moral than those who claimed to be better.

Participants reserved harsh judgment for individuals who bragged about their performance but were proven wrong by the evidence. Such people were deemed significantly less competent and less moral than any other man. The same was true for undeserving braggers when the test was of their morality, rather than their intelligence.

"In all cases, claiming to be better than average when the evidence shows otherwise is the worst strategic move you can make," [lead author of the study in Social Psychology and a graduate student in Brown University's Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Patrick] Heck said.

Translation: nobody likes a braggart, but we really don't appreciate the braggart who can't back it up!

The Humility Paradox
Another main finding from the research centers around the "humility paradox," which states that braggarts who claim above-average abilities will be perceived by others as more competent, but perhaps less moral, than someone who manages to remain humble when they could rightly choose to brag. So we can appear incredibly competent in our boastfulness, but take a hit to our perceived morality, if we go too far.

As for the "humblebrag," it's still a brag in disguise that everyone sees through right away. Nothing has changed there.


Bottom line: If we're going to brag big time at work, in a job interview, on the playground or on the campaign trail, then it's best to keep it real. Or we can remain humble and wait for the other person to connect the dots to the full picture of our incredible awesomeness.***

For some reason, this well-timed study caught my eye as we lurch toward November 8. I don't know about you, but election day can't get here fast enough.

** "Humility," according to Google, is "a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness." Just thought I'd throw that out there, since nobody in the social media age seems to know what it means anymore.

*** Now with higher levels of perceived morality for the win!


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