Are You the Office 'Humblebragger'?

Last Updated Aug 18, 2011 2:40 PM EDT

Are you? Short answer: Yes, you are. We all occasionally "humblebrag."

If you aren't familiar with humble bragging, according to Harris Wittels, the creator of the Twitter feed @humblebrag, a humblebrag is a form of bragging or self promotion that lets a person brag without appearing to intend to brag. (Key word is "appearing," since we can still tell humble braggers are pretty darned pleased with themselves.)

To illustrate the concept, here are two actual humblebrags:

  • Dane Cook*: "Being famous and having a fender bender is weird. You want to be upset but the other drivers just thrilled & giddy that it's you."
  • Tila Tequila**: "Man this is SO unfair! Why did the lambo dealership not tell me I'd get pulled over at least once a week in this car? Time for a corolla lol!"
Whether or not a comment is a humblebrag depends on differences, whether real or perceived, in status or position. If Dane Cook tells Chris Rock how weird it feels when the driver of the car that hit his car doesn't care about the accident because he's excited to meet Dane, that's not a humblebrag. Chris has been in similar situations and can relate.

But if Dane Cook says the same thing to us -- or to his two million Twitter followers -- he's humblebragging.

Celebrities aren't the only humblebraggers. The business world is full of them:

  • "I swear if the CEO calls one more time for help with his presentation I'm going to scream."
  • "I didn't have room to bring the complete document with me. I wish Prada made a larger bag."
  • "Funny you bring that up -- we had a similar discussion during the board meeting last week."
  • "I'm so awful at making decisions. I have three job offers and I have no idea which one I should take."
  • "I built a $500 million company but I still have no idea why Forbes magazine would want to profile someone as boring as me."
Most humblebrags are irritating but harmless -- but not when the bragger is in a leadership position. Employees don't want to hear about how embarrassed you were to be praised by the CEO. They don't want to hear how stressed you are about the big meeting in Chicago you've been asked to attend. They don't want to hear how hard it is to maintain two homes, or how you are so low on the frequent-flyer totem pole you were bumped from first class on your last flight.

Before you brag -- humbly or not, business or personal -- think about your audience. A guy with a 44-inch waist doesn't want to hear you complain that normally you wear 32-inch waist jeans... but not in Levi's, because Levi's sizes tend to run a little large.

Or better yet, if you're tempted to boast, even a little bit, don't try to disguise it in a humblebrag. Just be proud of whatever you accomplish and let that be enough.

Because it is.

Readers: Heard any particularly good humblebrags? Share in the comments below!
* Dane Cook is a hugely popular stand-up comedian.
** Tila Tequila is... never mind. Who cares.
Photo courtesy Ian Kahn and

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.