How To Deal With Someone Who's Bragging
Most people know it's a social faux pas to brag, but you'll still run into someone who does it every now and then. Sometimes they'll boast in an obvious, off-putting way. At other times they're more casually gabbing about some advantage or luxury they have that most of us would be more restrained about discussing, like the expensive car they just bought.
It can be a bit awkward to find yourself in a conversation with someone who's bragging and not know the best way to respond. Here are some options. They assume you want to handle the situation with some tact and finesse, and not just call them out or get into a power struggle.
Ask yourself if they're actually bragging or it could just seem that way
Sometimes people come across like they're talking themselves up, but that's not their intention. They may think they're simply discussing a neutral topic or sharing a piece of harmless information. For example, someone has a good salary and takes for granted they can travel a few times a year. They assume you're in a similar position and just want to swap vacation stories. They don't realize money's tight for you, and that they could seem like they're throwing their globe hopping lifestyle in your face. Another example is someone who got a promotion and just wants to share the good news. They don't mean to act like they're showing off about their big, successful career.
People can accidentally seem like they're bragging if they're a little oblivious about the fact that not everyone has all the advantages they do. Ideally we'd always be aware of the privileges we have compared to others, but we all forget from time to time. We're also more likely to mistake someone for bragging if the topic they're discussing hits one of our insecurities or sore spots. Like if you struggle with dating, it may feel like someone is being egotistical if they simply mention something they did with their partner over the weekend.
If you decide someone's not actually bragging, though maybe being a tad thoughtless, then just engage with the subject like you normally would
Use your judgment to figure out what they want out of the conversation, then proceed from there. A few examples:
- Your co-worker is going on about their fancy new car - You can tell they're just excited about their new toy, and treat it as any other purchase someone's happy about. You could listen, ask for more details, let them know you're glad for them, and so on.
- Your friend is talking about the expensive new computer they just built - You know they just want to go in depth about its technical features, and the price is incidental. You're into that stuff too and down to dive into it with them.
- Your friend is complaining about the food at the resort they just got back from - You think that's a mildly tacky thing to whine about, but set that aside for now, realize they just want a supportive ear to vent to, and indulge them for a few minutes.
- Someone at a party's telling a story, with some passing mentions of how much they can drink - You can tell they just want to entertain everyone, not boast about their alcohol tolerance. It's a funny anecdote otherwise, so you listen and laugh along.
If you're sure they are bragging, try to figure out what they want out of the interaction
Are they hoping you'll be impressed and validate how awesome they are? Are they trying to be your friend, and think they have to shoehorn their "selling points" into the conversation? Are they angling to hook up with you? Can you tell they're insecure and this is how they make themselves feel better? Are they subtly attempting to put you down?
If you come to an answer, ask if you're willing and able to give them what they want
For example, if it seems like they're proud of a recent accomplishment, and not being a total ass about it, you may have no problem telling them what a good job they did. I mean, we all appreciate some praise here and there, right? Or say you can tell someone's trying to befriend you, but going about it in a clumsy way. You're not opposed to getting to know them better, so you let them finish selling themselves, then change the subject.
Though maybe you can't give them what they want. You think their boasting is obnoxious and you're not going to stroke their ego. You don't want a closer relationship. You're not going to give them the satisfaction of making you feel small or jealous. Here are some options for that.
Listen politely, then change the subject or leave when you can
Do it in a natural, genuine way. Don't try to look over-the-top bland and unaffected to show them how bored and checked out you are. Just look friendly and engaged enough, let them wrap up the bragfest, then move onto something else.
Even if they're trying to put you down, playing dumb and being polite is often a good move. Just smile and nod along, acting as if they're sharing some impersonal fact. Pretend you're not aware they're, say, telling you about how successful their kids are because they want to insult your own skills as a parent. Don't give them the satisfaction of reacting.
Discreetly let them know they're bragging
If you're close enough with someone that it would be appropriate, and you think it would help, take them aside and nicely let them know they're boasting a little. They may not realize they're coming across like that and appreciate the feedback. Tell them in private so they can save face. This isn't about giving them their comeuppance in front of everyone.
Responses that probably won't help
Like I said, the approaches above are diplomatic, non-confrontational ways to handle the situation and move on. Though braggarts can be annoying, and it's tempting to try to put them in their place. You could:
- Directly call them out for how socially clueless and full of themselves they are.
- Try to make them feel like a loser by bragging yourself and one upping whatever it is they're boasting about.
- Subtly make them look foolish, e.g., in a group conversation you could egg them on to keep boasting, giving them more and more rope to hang themselves with, until they've gone too far and turned everyone off.
The problem is you may make yourself look bad in the process, and not get the satisfying revenge you're looking for. You could just seem as petty and insecure as the person you're trying to teach a lesson to.