The problem for many people, fascinating recent research out of the Netherlands reveals, isn’t unconscious flubs or personality limitations, it’s active self-promotion strategies that many of us think are great ways to nudge others to think highly of us. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that instead they probably make you come off as a total jerk.
So what are these tactics that backfire badly? The British Psychological Society Research Digest blog recently explained them in detail, but you can probably remember them with this handy acronym — the 4 H’s.
These days it’s hard to go an hour without hearing someone humblebrag, either in real life or on social media. You might assume the popularity of the technique is a good indication of its effectiveness, but according to this new study you’d be dead wrong.
The research showed that everyone can see that when you bemoan how busy you are, you’re just trying to convince the world (and probably yourself) of your importance, and when you complain about how exhausted you are from your latest globe-trotting adventure, you’re true aim is touting your glamorous lifestyle.
These types of humblebrags “typically come across as insincere, with a strong sense of manipulation to boot,” explains BPS.
Ancient Greeks risked the fury of the gods if they displayed hubris. You probably don’t have to worry about a thunderbolt from the heavens these days, but if you positively compare yourself to others, you can still face some pretty dire consequences.
“Research shows that we really don’t like people who big themselves up in comparison to other people. ‘I’m better than others at X’ is more poorly received than ‘I’m good at’ or ‘I’m better at X than I was’. Such downward social comparisons are seen as hostile, and even if they aren’t directed negatively at the audience, the audience tends to read it as an indirect poke at their own ability,” warns BPS.
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones was always good advice. It’s now also research-backed.
Sure, denouncing others for sins you are guilty of yourself can sometimes be an effective tactic (as many a politician has sadly discovered), but the study revealed that the costs of being caught out as a hypocrite are so great that you shouldn’t risk it.
4. [Back]Handed compliments
You want to compliment others but don’t want to be too effusive, and you also want to make sure to project your own status. Is a back-handed compliment like, “You’re pretty good for an intern,” the way to accomplish all these aims at once?
Nope, the research shows. These sorts of “compliments” come across as an obvious insult to the recipient and also reflect poorly on the giver, the study found. “Their calculated nature can betray how much you care about where you are ranked – which comes across as needy and actually lowers your status,” says BPS.
While the evidence suggests that all four of these tactics can destroy others’ opinion of you, the good news is that, unlike a character trait or physical feature, they’re straightforward to change. Simply knowing that these techniques backfire badly should be enough to push you to reflect before you speak. If something could be perceived as one of the “four H’s,” just refrain from commenting or rephrase.