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2019 International Association for Conflict Management Conference

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Ask-bragging and Ask-complaining: Feigning interest in others to elicit admiration and sympathy

Keywords: bragging, complaining, self presentation, impression management

Abstract: People often wish to share positive or negative information about themselves with others—they brag to elicit admiration and complain to elicit sympathy. We introduce pervasive and thinly-veiled disclosure strategies: ask-bragging and ask-complaining. In both cases, people ask their conversation partner a question (“How was your weekend?”). Then, in a subsequent turn of the conversation, the question-asker answers the question him or herself (whether the partner has asked the question back or not). Ask-brags and ask-complaints are viewed as adherences to social norms and erroneously believed by the asker to leave a better impression than overt disclosures. The strategies are commonly deployed, but are quite ineffective. Recipients realize that ask-braggarts and -complainers have little interest in their response, but are instead setting up their own disclosure (“Mine was amazing!” / “Mine was awful!”)—and prefer people who straightforwardly brag or complain.

Ryan Hauser, Yale School of Management

Alison Wood Brooks, Harvard Business School

Michael Norton, Harvard Business School


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