Self-promoters underestimate how annoying they are

Everyone is bored by a boastful colleague, but we fail to see it in ourselves

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A little self-promotion is necessary to advance in any job, but it’s a fine line to walk between putting your best foot forward and putting it in your mouth. New research shows that the worst offenders may not even know they’ve crossed it.

Researchers from City University London, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Tilburg School of Economics and Management in the Netherlands found that people who brag about themselves both underestimate how much it bothers listeners while overestimating how interested people actually are in their stories.

In one experiment, the study’s authors asked 75 adults to remember a time when they either bragged, or had to listen to someone else’s bragging. They then had to rate how much they enjoyed the experience and how much they guessed their conversational partner enjoyed it. Those who were bragging thought their listeners were probably quite happy and not very annoyed to hear about their achievements. They were wrong: the people who had to listen to someone brag recalled being less happy and more annoyed than the bragging group estimated.

The researchers pointed out that the methodology isn’t perfect because people who remembered a time when they were self-promoting probably thought they managed to do it in a non-annoying way; while those who had to recall a time when they listened to someone shamelessly bragging, probably remembered a particularly bad incident.

To address the discrepancies in the first experiment’s methodology, the researchers conducted a second experiment where participants created a profile on a fake social media site. Some of the participants were given explicit instructions to write about themselves in a way that would entice others to meet them, while other participants weren’t given any specific instructions. They then had to guess how others would react to what they had written. A second group of participants judged the profiles, and the result was that profile writers thought the judges would like them more than they actually did. The judges especially didn’t like the participants who were given instructions to write their profile so that others would be interested in meeting them.

The study’s authors say that getting people to think favourably of your accomplishments might be better achieved “by modest self-representation, or even self-denigration, than by outright bragging about one’s positive qualities.” So next time Brad from sales Tweets yet again about how he’s totally #crushingit, take a deep breath: it’s not his fault—he just doesn’t know how irritating it is. And remember not to make the same mistake yourself. If you do need to talk about yourself, at least make it self-deprecating. Or better yet, get a wing-man who can toot your horn for you.