Boasting has its advantages… if you do it right

Do you boast sometimes? Not to worry, there could actually be great benefits in boasting, as long as you do it in the right way, according to research. But there are also quite a few pitfalls…

I am sure you have heard the expressions ”don’t blow your own horn” and “pride goes before a fall”. Both these expressions tell us that we must not walk around telling people about our own magnificence, or else we may end up in trouble. But is this true? No, not really. Or maybe to some extent. Or, well, it depends…

Researchers at Brown University in the US have tried to work out our relationship with boasting and self-aggrandisement. Their results are reported by Psychology Today and Inc, among others, and can be described as both obvious and rather surprising.

A study group of nearly 200 people were told stories of people who had participated in a test and then talked about how they thought they had done in the test. The stories appeared in four different versions:

1. Those who praised themselves for having done well, and whose results actually were good.
2. Those who claimed to have done well, but whose results in reality were not good at all.
3. Those who said they had done poorly, but who had actually done very well.
4. Those who thought they had failed and who actually had.

The study group were now asked to consider what they thought about the people they had just heard, focusing on two areas: Who did they consider the most competent and knowledgeable? Who did they think were the nicest, most credible and most ethical/moral people?

As for competence, it turned out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that those who praised themselves and also did do well in the test (group 1) were perceived as more competent and knowledgeable than any of the other groups. They were perceived as more competent than group 3, even though the latter had performed just as well in the test, they just had not believed they had.

However, when it came to the ethical and moral aspects, group 3 and 4 were both favourites with the study group. Group 2 was the least liked, i e those who boasted about having done well despite having performed poorly in the test.

The researchers’ conclusion could perhaps be summarised in this way:

If you want to be perceived as competent, do promote your knowledge, but make sure you back it up with real evidence. Empty talk and exaggerations will come back and bite you.

However, if your goal is to build good relationships and credibility and be perceived as ethically and morally good, you need to tone down the boasting and assume a more humble approach.

A tricky situation, not least for leaders who want to be perceived as both competent and ethical. But there are a few tricks you can use to reach full boasting effect, without appearing… well, boastful:

• Let the facts speak for themselves. If, for example, as a new manager you have turned bad numbers into very good ones in a year, do not say “Thanks to me we are now doing an ‘all time high’ ”. Instead say, “In a year, we have managed to turn poor figures into great ones”: Anyone listening will most likely be able to work out what, or who, is behind this amazing transformation. Exchanging “I…” for “We…” is a sure way to get other people on board.

• Praise generously. Most likely there are other people who have also contributed to your success, for example employees, colleagues, friends and family. Do not forget to give these people ample and well-deserved praise, for example by saying “You have played a big part in my/our succeeding in…”.

• Do not play down your own efforts too much. To say “Nah, this was nothing, it was just a simple thing” when you have done something extraordinary might make others (who have not achieved what you have just managed to do) feel bad and make you appear quite arrogant. Instead talk about how hard it actually was and the effort you had to put in to actually succeed. People appreciate a fighter.

• Do not belittle others. When you have done something you are proud of, avoid comparing yourself to others who have not done so well. It is fine to say, “This year I have sold for more than £ 1,000,000”, but if you add “… and no one else in the company has managed that”, you will only appear greedy and mean.

• Do not try to act humble. “Humble-bragging”, meaning that while you are talking about some extraordinary achievement of yours, you also try to appear humble or you moan about the outcome, is not to be recommended. Saying, “Now that I have won £ 1,000,000 in the lottery, I have realised how many problems come with being rich” is not going to win you any friends. It will however give you a reputation of someone who is dishonest (regardless of whether your recently acquired fortune has brought with it problems or not).

So, boasting in the right way is an art. Which leads us to the real reason for this blog post:

The New Leadership are launching a new office in London. It is the first step in our international expansion and is part of our strategy to become an international leadership organisation. We would like to thank all of our clients and companies who have chosen to work with us. You have made it possible for us to take this step. Thank you!

Boasting? Indeed! But we hope we did it in the appropriate manner… sort of. 

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