Leadership

How humblebragging could be sabotaging your career, according to science

NBC's The Office
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NBC's The Office

If you're looking to receive accolades for your accomplishments in the office, don't go about it by humblebragging.

Humblebragging is defined as bragging masked by complaint or humility, according to researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and it makes people dislike you, especially your co-workers.

The recent study looking at the effects of humblebragging was led by Ovul Sezer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The team of scientists ran a series of experiments to determine how prevalent humblebragging is and how the recipient perceives it. Researchers found that not only is humblebragging common (70 percent of study participants noted a recent time they'd heard a humblebrag), but certain types of humblebragging are more common and viewed as more annoying than others.

"Sincerity is a very important dimension and we value this character trait." -Ovul Sezer, study author

The research then looked at two distinct forms of humblebragging: Complaint ("I'm so exhausted from getting elected to leadership positions at work all the time") and humility ("I can't believe my co-workers nominated me to receive this prestigious award.")

Complaint humblebragging was much more common, with 60 percent of participants recalling a time they'd heard this type of bragging. Notably, it was perceived as a bit more irritating than a humility humblebrag.

However, both forms of humblebragging are particularly common in the workplace, study author Ovul Sezer tells CNBC Make It. In fact, 33 percent of study participants noted that they had heard humblebrags in their workplace.

Sezer says to take an interview as an example: One of the most common questions asked is "What's your biggest weakness?" This question begs a humblebrag response like, "I'm too much of a perfectionist" or "I find it difficult to take breaks from my desk because I'm such a hard worker."

Sezer adds that in an office setting we like to have our accomplishments recognized by our peers and our bosses. When people notice our achievements, it can lead to higher pay, promotions and even more recognition.

However, this is an ineffective strategy, says the researcher, because your coworkers find it annoying and can see right through a humblebrag. "People find it very insincere," Sezer explains. "It's not effective at all and it won't produce the desired effect."

The study also analyzed how people who humblebrag are viewed when it comes to likability and competence, compared to those who are regular braggers or simply complaining. The research found that regular braggers and complainers were seen as more likable and competent in their work.

"People humblebrag because they think it's the best of both worlds. Modesty is seen as a virtue, so this way you can brag and still be humble," says Sezer. "But it actually loses on both dimensions compared to outright bragging and complaining."

This false modesty also makes your co-workers see you as inept at your job and "diminishes your successes," says the researcher.

Sezer adds that because humblebragging is so disliked, your co-workers will treat you in a way that matches their attitude toward you. This means that you won't get the job, the promotion, the help you need or the positive feedback that you were seeking.

But if you do want to indulge in some self-promotion, Sezer says that there are two ways you can go about it. First, you can simply come out and brag about your accomplishments because candid bragging is viewed as more genuine and more honest than humblebragging. However, she says, bragging is still risky.

Your best bet is to have a work friend or close associate brag about your accomplishments for you, advises Sezer. That way you can reap the rewards of people viewing you in a positive light and your co-workers won't see you as the source of the brag. But whatever you do, says the researcher, don't go about seeking praise through a faux humility brag.

"Sincerity is a very important dimension and we value this character trait," Sezer explains. "We want to see genuine people and real people. Humblebragging comes off as fake."

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