Why Women Don't Brag—And Why They Should

Thursday, January 16, 2014

woman with pink conversation boxes (Red Bug/Shutterstock)

We all brag from time to time. Yet for some of us, it's comes more naturally.

Research shows that men are far more likely to brag than women. While men will sometimes exaggerate their accomplishments, the data shows that women feel anxiety and discomfort about bragging and tend to subscribe to a more traditional idea of modesty.

But what if you could find the source of that anxiety and eliminate it?

Jessi Smith, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Montana State University, researched the psychology of bragging in women. She thought of a way to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling women experience when they self promote, and then she put her theory to the test. Today Professor Smith discusses her research and what it means for women in the workplace.

Guests:

Jessi Smith

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [17]

Todd

obviously the author has no female friends on Facebook. All I see every day is "positive thought"-style messages about motherhood and self sacrifice and being teachers and nurses.

Mar. 13 2014 01:36 PM
arianna doxis

This probably affects women's competitiveness in job applications, since women are afraid to mention their
accomplishments.

It may also be related to the fact that when the same vita is given a male vs. female fake name, the male is rated more competent by both men and women. So boasting by a man is more believable, alas.

Jan. 17 2014 10:21 PM

When I was in my early 20s, I dated a man who was very successful in the field in which I was struggling -- stand-up comedy, where a strong (or at lest resilient) ego is important. And while I had a strong desire to get onstage, I lacked confidence once I got there.

I had seen comics bragging blithely, and I thought it would be good for my self-esteem to try this. So in a conversation with my boyfriend who was usually supportive of me, I remarked that I was good at delivering certain kinds of material.

And he snapped back, "Why do you always have to blow your own horn?"

But I NEVER blew my own horn -- THAT was the problem!

With the hindsight of many years, I don't think it was the comment per se that irritated my boyfriend, but rather that I was ashamed of making this comment even as I said it. And he was responding to my shame -- unconsciously, of course. Often we respond negatively to things which ostensibly are not offensive, but are seeded with some other quality that is upsetting to the listener, like shame.

What I've learned:

It's not a good idea to artificially bolster confidence with bragging. The horn-blow sounds off-key and grating. But I've found that if I spent time now and then thinking about my accomplishments, how hard I've worked, appreciate those areas where I'm genuinely talented -- then when I talk about my achievements, it doesn't ring false or boastful.

And I find people respond positively.

Jan. 17 2014 07:24 PM
tom LI

Shimon from UT - your last post. Great points! With age comes the vision of such things.

The American Propaganda machine is constantly pontificating about how important the TEAM is to everything. Work, family, community, local, statewide and federal. But as a Culture we fawn over and glorify the ones who self-aggrandize and boast more than they recognize that a team likely got them their fame, wealth, wins - be it the family unit, a school program, or at work...

I see it all the time at work. Some jerky boss takes all the credit for the wins, pounds his/her chest at what a great manager and innovator (no matter that they likely stole the better ideas) but then is quick as a roach in sudden light to throw staffers under the bus for the loses. "Whats wrong with you people? I told you what to do! Heads are gonna roll!"

And even though when sports stars are interviewed they tend to talk about the team effort - they are the ones getting the attention perks, the better sponsorships...rare is the time one of them pulls one of their unsung team mates in for some camera time. Rare is when the field/court interviewer goes after the Grinders on the team.

Guess how many offensive linemen are gonna be interviewed post SuperBowl? zero-point-zero!

Jan. 16 2014 05:04 PM
tom LI

Shimon from UT - your last post. Great points! With age comes the vision of such things.

The American Propaganda machine is constantly pontificating about how important the TEAM is to everything. Work, family, community, local, statewide and federal. But as a Culture we fawn over and glorify the ones who self-aggrandize and boast more than they recognize that a team likely got them their fame, wealth, wins - be it the family unit, a school program, or at work...

I see it all the time at work. Some jerky boss takes all the credit for the wins, pounds his/her chest at what a great manager and innovator (no matter that they likely stole the better ideas) but then is quick as a roach in sudden light to throw staffers under the bus for the loses. "Whats wrong with you people? I told you what to do! Heads are gonna roll!"

And even though when sports stars are interviewed they tend to talk about the team effort - they are the ones getting the attention perks, the better sponsorships...rare is the time one of them pulls one of their unsung team mates in for some camera time. Rare is when the field/court interviewer goes after the Grinders on the team.

Guess how many offensive linemen are gonna be interviewed post SuperBowl? zero-point-zero!

Jan. 16 2014 05:04 PM
Shimon from Provo Utah

jm,

Very few things are accomplished by a single person for which they alone can take credit for or brag about. Modestly does not imply a lack of confidence. One can be modest and confident. In fact, those who have both qualities are to be admired.

Tomas Edison did not invent the light bulb on his own. The receiver who is dancing in the end zone strutting his stuff did not get there on his own (though he would like you to think so). Steve Jobs did not invent the Apple Computer or IPhone on his own. Now in my 60's, I appreciate more those who say, "I was a part of ...", or "I worked with really talented people and we did ..." Less "I" and more "we" is what we need.

I appreciate your comment jm

Jan. 16 2014 04:49 PM
tom LI

Once again we see "feminism" seeking to make women more like men by trying to make them match the unappealing characteristics of men!

Its was smoking (cigs first, then in the 90's cigars, and women dipping!!) it was hard drinking, multiple sex partners, fighting, soldiering (now they WANT to be on the front lines killing the enemy!) - and of course being ruthless and uncompassionate in the workplace!

What ever happened to Women showing the world a different way than the male way? Huh? Ladies, what say you that you now equate being liberated and free by being jerks like men/boys?

I simply dont get it, and I am quickly losing hope that the next few generations will rescue this nation form their parents - especially the Boomers who not only dropped the ball, but ripped it apart and buried it to hide the evidence...

Ladies wake-up, dump the Feminists Ideal and recreate the whole thing so that you act like women, behave like women, and show the world that there is an actual Woman's Way! (which doesnt mean you cant play sports and get dirty - as real men do like active, jocky, willing to get dirty women to be in a relationship with - just stop trying to emulate the worst of what men tend to be!)

Jan. 16 2014 04:48 PM
jm

Shimon:

"I think this butt backwards. Women should not be bragging more, men should be bragging less! Bragging is not dignified. It is arrogant, rude, and narcissistic. We have way to much of that in our society already."

We should be meeting each other halfway. We shouldn't constantly brag, but women shouldn't be discouraged with tooting their own horns when it's justified. We all need to be honest about both our strengths and weaknesses, and realize there's a place in the world for each unique profile.

I'm calling ____ on the employer who claims he would hire the modest candidates over the confident ones. Men have always been lauded for recognizing their achievements even if they have no foundation in reality. In my industry, I've seen so many marginally talented men float by solely on their cockiness.

I also believe this is changing among the younger generations. Those of us who experienced certain life milestones without the transparency provided by easy consumer internet access are less likely to feel the effect of residual patriarchal socialization.

Jan. 16 2014 03:31 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Takeaway suggests that women need a placebo in order to start bragging about themselves.

So, I am going to make a weirdly wired black box that will make noise for my girlfriend and hope for an affective misattribution paradigm. We will see if she starts bragging about what her boyfriend made for her Valentine's Day. Just in case, I will include chocolates and flowers.

Jan. 16 2014 02:39 PM
Shimon from Provo Utah

I think this butt backwards. Women should not be bragging more, men should be bragging less! Bragging is not dignified. It is arrogant, rude, and narcissistic. We have way to much of that in our society already.

Jan. 16 2014 02:24 PM
CAROLINE from NJ USA

The way bragging is taken by either men or women is culturally based, just as the way a persons brags or is self-effacing has a lot to do with cultural norms.

Yes! Talking about yourself out loud is also different . .. Surely, a self-effacing demeanor is completely feminine, but men are not immune. These are human characteristics. Family culture, and the make up of any certain individual (just the way they are born) contribute.

However, self-acceptance is a difficult concept for most human beings. Most strive to be liked, and loved by parents, and peers. Whatever works for the individual will be what's often exhibited by that person. Males are often expected by parents to be leaders, especially first born, and boys demonstrate aggressiveness differently from girls. We each have our ways, and a few million years of evolution brings us to the present.

In the study, some people were successful, or failed no matter what they thought of the "box". It just goes back to human nature, in my opinion.

Jan. 16 2014 02:04 PM

I've personally seen confident women be fired for being "too cocky." As Peg points out, there is a HUGE difference between writing confidently about your work, as a woman, and speaking the same words out loud. There have been studies that show that a woman who speaks confidently about herself, or who negotiates for a higher salary, often ends up in a less desirable position.

It's not just that women are conditioned to apologize for their success - they are actively punished for promoting it.

Jan. 16 2014 01:25 PM
LeahNYC from uptown NYC

(copying here my "your take" comment of yesterday)

Today's public / workplace culture, with its baked-in and persistent male-oriented values, still doesn't quite see women's actual strengths as publicly valid and valuable strengths.

Nevertheless, touting others' abilities and achievements, sharing credit, recognizing the importance of considering consequences when faced with the need to act on a complex problem -- these are actual strengths!

Women's strengths exist in plain and public sight. But we hear mostly silence from men when conversations turn to subjects of general interest, and value, to women. Good on you, J.H., for addressing our interests.

But who says we ought to be able to brag? OK, in the short term, we have to survive in the world as we find it. But also, we must be the change we want to see.

OK, enough of this. Back to job-hunting!

(I'm kidding.)

(Self-irony? Yup, yet another strength that's seen as a weakness, when it comes to public / workplace culture.)

Jan. 16 2014 01:12 PM

Thanks for your comment Kelly - good luck with your submission!

-T. J. Raphael
Digital Content Editor
The Takeaway

Jan. 16 2014 11:05 AM
Kelly

For the first time, my company is requiring that we write our own annual job performance review. I have found it to be daunting. I know my accomplishments, which are many, but I am having a bit of an internal emotional struggle "bragging" about myself. I sent a copy of my first draft, of my review, to my immediate supervisor and he wrote back that I should " toot my horn a little more".
The timing of this conversation is perfect and I will be listening to this episode, prior to hitting the submit button on my review, later today.

Jan. 16 2014 11:01 AM
Peg

About Professor Smith's study - She had the subjects WRITE not speak about themselves. That's a BIG difference. Do the study with speaking women and I suggest that the women (even with the "distracter machine) will be much more modest when speaking about themselves.

Jan. 16 2014 10:37 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

Such Great Heights by Broadcast?

That song is my takeaway from the off-putting subject of removing the woman-ness from women.

Jan. 16 2014 09:31 AM

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