Boasting safely

A boast-it note

A boast-it note

One of the most difficult things about networking is how to let people know about your dazzling achievements without appearing to be an overbearing self-publicist. Some recent research has looked at when it might be safe to boast and when it might damage your reputation.

In the study by Nurit Tal-Or, undergraduates were asked to read one of four different conversations in which student A ends up boasting about their good exam results in a particular module to student B. They were then asked to rate the student A on their boastfulness and likeability. Even though the boast was exactly the same in each example, the context in which the boast was made had a significant impact on how it was perceived.

If student B had been the first one to talk about the module, then student A’s boasting was considered acceptable. On the other hand, if the boasting student had introduced the topic in the first place, then it was only acceptable to brag if he had been asked a direct question about his performance by student B.

In a second study using the same conversations, undergraduates were asked to remember who introduced the topic in the first place. Interestingly, in the version where student A first mentions the topic but student B asks about the grades, participants mistakenly remembered student B as the one who introduced the topic in the first place. It seems our lazy brains make the assumption that if someone can be bothered to ask a question about something, they must have been the one who brought it up initially. This could be a boon to anyone undergoing group discussions at assessment centres. If you don’t manage to introduce a brilliant idea into the discussion, at least ask a question about it and you may get the credit anyway.

This piece of social etiquette is quite a challenge for someone who is involved in training (or writing a blog). As I’m the one introducing the subject, it’s always inappropriate for me to do any boasting unless it is in response to a direct question. By the way, did I mention that I really welcome your questions in the comments on these posts…

  • How can you engineer a situation so that someone else raises a topic you want to boast about, or asks you a direct question about it?
Tal-Or, N. (2010). Bragging in the right context: Impressions formed of self-promoters who create a context for their boasts. Social Influence, 5(1), 23-39.

Related post: Go on! Impress me!

Photo credit: Iain Tait

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