Isn’t it nice when psychology validates your hatred of all the things you hate? There’s a reason your noisy co-worker is so dang distracting, for example. And you’re probably right to avoid going to Ikea with your significant other, or to have a hard time accepting that half-assed apology.
And in what may be the most satisfying validation of all, research has shown that humblebragging (a) really is the worst, and (b) doesn’t even help you get ahead: In a 2015 Harvard study, people who used humblebrags to show off were rated as less likable and less sincere than those who went for straight-up boasting. “Faced with the choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag,” the study authors wrote, “would-be self-promoters should choose the former — and at least reap the rewards of seeming sincere.”
But the problem with this, according to a new paper by a team of business professors from the University of Economics in Prague, is that a lack of sincerity probably isn’t going to cost you the job — at least, not if you still come across as competent. And competence, unfortunately, is something that humblebrags convey pretty well.
In the first part of the study, the researchers wanted to get a sense of just how common the humblebrag really was. Modeling their experiment off of the same 2015 Harvard paper, they recruited a group of Czech college students to pretend they were interviewing for a job, then asked them the worst interview question of all: “What’s your biggest weakness?” Out of 91 people, the authors reported, around half spun their answer into some sort of boast: “Twenty-six humblebragged in their responses and 20 stated a positive characteristic in combination with a negative one.”
In the next part of the study, participants were given information about candidates for a hypothetical job listing, including their answers to the weakness question, and asked to rate whether they’d be a good fit for the position. As with the Harvard study, volunteers tended to think the humblebraggers were the least sincere and least likable of the bunch — but, annoyingly, they also came off as higher in “competence, dependability, and flexibility,” the researchers wrote. “Possibly because of the mutual elimination of these opposing forces, humblebragging led to neither more, nor less positive overall evaluation of [a] candidate’s suitability for the job.” In other words: Humblebragging probably won’t win you any work friends, but for better or worse, people can get away with a lot when they’re good at what they do.