Manners: I Rule

When is it okay to toot your own horn?

By Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D., published November 5, 2012 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Nobody likes a show-off, but almost everyone likes to show off—at least a little. Research by social psychologist Susan Speer demonstrates the difference between acceptable and obnoxious bragging.

DON'T: Advertise your great personal qualities.

“I’m basically a genius.”

Unsubstantiated boasting about being well liked, talented, or smart is the form of self-praise that’s most likely to violate social norms.

DON'T: Fixate on something amazing you’ve done.

“Can we talk more about my Pulitzer?”

If you’re an Olympic gold medalist, say, it’s fine to celebrate and mention it in your bio. But don’t wear your medal while running errands or introduce yourself as “Gold medalist John Smith.”

DON'T: Announce your success with a disclaimer.

“I know I shouldn’t brag, but...”

Admitting your faux pas up front just shows that you know you’re violating the expectation of modesty. Simply saying “I won, and I’m happy” is at least an honest sentiment.

DON'TBask in someone else’s reflected glory.

“Great that Bob got promoted—I taught him everything he knows.”

No one complains when grandparents share the accomplishments of their grandchildren. The line gets crossed when you try to look good by aligning yourself with the achievements of others.

DO: Quote someone else—and give proof.

“Betty said this was the best pie she’s ever had—here, try a piece.”

The only form of self-praise Speer finds acceptable is quoting kudos you’ve received from someone else, preferably accompanied by direct evidence that you live up to the hype.