I think my dog Molly is one of the Top 10 Cutest Creatures Ever. From her preciously lopsided ears to her perfectly curled tail, she is the best. She runs like a cheetah and sleeps as sweetly as a baby in an Anne Geddes photo. Not to mention all of the other dogs and their parents love her. Oh, and she’s really smart.
Are you tired of hearing about my dog yet? Yeah, you and the rest of my friends.
I brag about Molly because I want everyone else to know how great she is and I assume that people are very interested in my dog stories. There is a line, however, when proud puppy parent turns into self-involved braggart (and the dog version of a crazy cat lady).
In general, people brag in an attempt to make a good impression across any number of situations. Of course there is a time and place for self-promotion, but just one step too far can land you in the bragging zone.
A new research study by social scientists Irene Scopelliti, George Loewenstein and Joachim Vosgerau proposes that we overestimate the extent to which recipients of our self-promotion feel proud of and happy for us, and in turn underestimate their level of annoyance. It’s a dangerous combination really, especially in the business world. The researchers asked about 50 people to describe a situation in which they had bragged. The “self-promoters” were asked whether they felt positive or negative emotions while they were bragging, and if they thought those who listened felt positive or negative emotions. On the flip side, the researchers asked about 50 other people to describe a time in which someone had bragged to them. These “recipients” were asked whether they felt good or bad while they listened.
The group of self-promoters guessed that only slightly more than 25% of people reacted negatively to their bragging. They were way off – almost 75% of recipients said they did so. Not surprisingly, most of the self-promoters reported feeling positive emotions while they were bragging.
It would be a mistake to assume that only individuals can be seen as braggarts; a company can easily carry this persona as well. It’s a challenge we face in the PR world daily. We want to ensure that the various audiences we’re reaching understand the impact of our message – be it about a new product, service or corporate initiative – but we must do so in a factual, informative manner and carefully avoid the “self-promoter” territory. To claim that your company is the best, the only or the first at doing something puts you at risk of turning off your audience.
Take for instance this excerpt from an article outlining overused terms that should be left out of press releases: “bleeding edge/cutting edge. How many financial technology companies or products truly can claim such a lofty position? It’s getting pretty crowded out there on the edge.” We hear regularly that the media is tired of this type of language. It’s self-promotional without providing them any real context.
A couple tips to avoid braggart status:
Tone it down: You are required to subscribe to the idea that your company is the best and the brightest; others don’t. Certainly don’t undermine the value you bring to the table, but keep in mind that humbleness might be a breath of fresh air to the audience you’re addressing.
Back it up: Prior to developing PR (and yes, even marketing) materials, make sure you can back up any sweeping claims. You help customers save time and money – how? You provide the best ROI for the financial industry – show me the numbers.
Again, there is a time and place for unabashedly promoting yourself, but you will find that those opportunities are few and far between. Don’t be the braggart in the room. As the numbers in this study indicate, you won’t be doing yourself or your company any favors.