“I just hate it when people mistake me for George Clooney.”
“It’s so hard to manage the housework for both my summer place and my home in the city.”
“Johnny is having a really hard time deciding between Ivies for college. I can’t blame him, as they’ve all given him scholarships.”
Such self-deprecating boasts were christened humblebrags in 2010 by comedian and author Harris Wittels, who created a Twitter feed to highlight the insights gleaned from rich, beautiful celebrities trying to appear like regular folk. The word now is common usage and examples abound in most people’s social media feeds, not to mention in everyday interactions.
But don’t these people know how bad they sound? Or maybe no one else minds?
It turns out they do.
A trio of Harvard Business School researchers recently set out to find the impact that the humblebrag has on human interactions, and published a working paper of their findings recently. Their takeaway? It’s better to brag outright or just complain than opt for the inferior hybrid.
The researchers sent out surveys to hundreds of volunteers, asking them to read three statements and evaluate the character of the writers. One was a brag (“People mistake me for a model”), the other a complaint (“I’m so bored”), and the third a humblebrag (“I’m so bored with people mistaking me for a model”).
They found that respondents liked humblebraggarts less and found them less sincere than outright braggarts or complainers.
“Even complaining is better than humblebragging, because it at least sounds sincere,” said one of the co-authors, HBS doctoral candidate Ovul Sezer.
Furthermore, across the board, the humblebraggers were despised, even when they were self-aware and identified themselves as such by using the hashtag #humblebrag.
Sezer says while the humblebrag has likely always existed in some form, social media’s role as a tool for self-promotion has helped its proliferation and heightened our awareness of it. She suggests that it’s best to avoid it, particularly in the workplace or during job interviews.
“The best way to self-promote is to stay away from [the humblebrag],” she said, “or just have other people do it on your behalf.”