How do I deal nicely with a braggart?
December 10, 2009 7:33 AM   Subscribe

How to gracefully deal with a self-aggrandizing friend?

I have a friend and I like her a lot, but she has this extremely annoying habit of bragging about herself. I don't mean that she just has a good sense of her own strengths, I mean she says things like "I consider myself an expert" and "I am extremely good at this", even when she is demonstrably, provably wrong, or obviously not as good at foo as she claims to be. I recognize that some/most of this comes from insecurity, but... It is getting to the point where I get irritated and eye-rolly and I don't like getting that way, especially because when she's not talking about how great she is, I really like her! I am losing the ability to separate the times when she is actually right about her abilities from the times when she is being a blowhard, because it is all starting to sound like "check out the skills on ME!". This is the sort of behavior I expect in teenagers, not someone more than twice that age.

I don't really feel the need to take her down a peg (although sometimes it is tempting, when she is empirically wrong about something), and this is not tall poppy syndrome, it's just incredibly annoying to hear someone tell you how great they are, sometimes at your expense, and often in ways which are completely irrelevant to the topic you are discussing. She also does this even if we are ostensibly talking about something that isn't herself. She will very often bring conversations back to herself somehow (and I don't mean in the reasonable "here's a relevant and similar situation I've been in, so I can relate" sense), and find a way to work in a comment about her mad skillz and experience, no matter what we are discussing.

I don't mean to make her sound horrible, she is genuinely a nice person, but I can feel the irritation building and I so don't want this to end with a blow-out ragefest. I would much rather find a way to either head her off, or deal with it internally so I don't get so annoyed. I don't like the way this makes me feel, and I also don't want to hurt her feelings or distance myself from her.
posted by biscotti to Human Relations (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've met these people before and wonder how their friends can stand them. The next time your friend runs her mouth about she's actually an expert in kung fu movies, let her finish her entire speech. Then pause, smile kindly, and say, "You are a great friend, but your insistence on constantly bringing up your myriad skills feels alienating given that I'm someone who already adores you. I love you because you're interesting and funny, but it's not interesting or funny to hear someone brag about themselves."

You can take more roundabout routes, but ultimately 99% of people find this trait unforgivably annoying (it can't just be me) and would rather hang out with most self-deprecating-est person alive than have lunch with a braggart. You're doing her a favor by letting her know that her innocent attempts to make herself seem cool are actually off-putting.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:46 AM on December 10, 2009 [22 favorites]

You could be passive aggressive and say something like, "It must be hard to manage all the requests for your expertise, especially since you're so much more qualified than someone with a PhD in Biology to talk about this wetland."
posted by k8t at 7:51 AM on December 10, 2009

As a lifelong Yankee, I only recently became aware of the most useful Southern lady trick: the "Bless your heart!" It is simultaneously withering and polite, and it can be used in almost any situation. I suggest you try it the next time your friend shares her "expertise."
posted by oinopaponton at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2009 [12 favorites]

This might be easier to answer if we knew how you're currently responding to it. Do you give no response? A lackluster response? An insincerely encouraging response?
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:58 AM on December 10, 2009

The classic response is an indulgent "that's nice dear" followed by an immediate return to the topic at hand. Extra credit for returning to the exact point the conversation was derailed.
posted by Allee Katze at 8:00 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try responding to every pronouncement of her greatness with "And you're so modest, too!"

(If she has a sense of humor, that is. Otherwise I recommend a straightforward approach like zoomorphic's.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:09 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You could be passive aggressive

an indulgent "that's nice dear"

the most useful Southern lady trick: the "Bless your heart!"

This would work if the woman were a terrible cocktail party conversant that biscotti would never have to see again, but it's a pretty mean and patronizing response for a friend who's acting out against her insecurities. It seems like the friend has no idea of what she's doing and why, and picking on her, making fun of her knowledge gaps, diminishing her input, etc just exacerbates her craving to be the Best; No, Be Impressed By Me and My Maybe Fabricated Intelligence!

It'll take a couple conversations to ram this home. Maybe be brutally upfront the first time, and every subsequent diatribe about how, no, your friend is actually a German wine aficionado, look her dead in the eye and say, "Hi! I like you for who you are! Not what you know." And then continue the conversation as if nothing major happened. Please, do it kindly, without menace or derision. She's just scared her real personality isn't impressive.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:10 AM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: As to how I currently respond...after a recent time when she stated she had "most of a PhD" in a subject in order to claim authority about a statement she had made that was empirically incorrect (which I double-checked later, but decided not to pursue further with her), and I got very close to completely losing my temper...I either ignore her, make noncommittal "mm-hmm" sounds, or just steer things back to the subject at hand.

The problem is that this has become a constant background level of irritation, and any time she says anything at all about herself, I feel myself thinking "here she goes again", even if she's being entirely reasonable and accurate. I don't mind myself being irritated by her being ridiculous, but I do mind the fact that I feel like I can't be fair about it anymore.

The problem is also that she is slippery - if you call her out, she changes her story ("you misunderstood what I meant, of course I know that, what I was talking about was this"). But honestly, I do like her, and she is a wonderful and generous person when she is not being That Person. Thanks for the responses so far.
posted by biscotti at 8:11 AM on December 10, 2009

There are a lot of cute responses you can give, but unless you address it directly as zoomorphic suggested, she's going to keep doing it and her behavior will eventually run you off. My lifelong nemesis has been exactly this kind of person for twenty years and I can't deal with her at all anymore.
posted by something something at 8:11 AM on December 10, 2009

Stop giving her opportunities to discuss stuff that isn't anecdotal.
posted by anniecat at 8:19 AM on December 10, 2009

Best answer: This is a great comment about how one person cleverly dealt with a friend that constantly said critical things. Not identical to your situation but related.

It is important to tell her about your irritation. If you, as her friend, are getting irritated then it's very likely that her less charitable acquaintances are getting VERY irritated.

I would, in a one on one situation, have a heart to heart with her. Tell how much you like her and how clever, knowledgeable and wonderful she is but that her constant desire to be clever, knowledgeable and wonderful about everything damages her credibility and possibly her ability to maintain conversations and friendships. She will likely find that if she throttles that desire to brag about herself that people will like her more.

Good luck to you and her! Have fun with it and make it a bit of a game. But do directly tell her that she does need to throttle back on the bragging as it is damaging your relationship with her. Heck, she probably isn't even aware that she is bragging so much. Keep the tone light, and non-confrontational.
posted by SantosLHalper at 8:25 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a lifelong Yankee, I only recently became aware of the most useful Southern lady trick: the "Bless your heart!" It is simultaneously withering and polite, and it can be used in almost any situation. I suggest you try it the next time your friend shares her "expertise."

As another lifelong Yankee who is acclimating to the South, I have to say I really hate this. It's passive-aggressive and phony. It might be useful to use on some random stranger who's being obnoxious, but to do this to a friend you otherwise like and care about is pretty mean. Just be direct (but kind.) What good is a friend if they won't tell you when you're making an ass of yourself?
posted by cottonswab at 8:28 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is tough. I've been in this spot and after a while, no matter how nice they were when they weren't being "that person", it wore me down. I tried being direct, I tried being p/A and I tried ignoring it. I couldn't get past it. Energetically, it cost me too much to be their friend. (Hell, I have a cousin like that and I can't even be around her because her behavior makes me want to whip out my inner bitch and I generally like to keep that part of myself hidden.)

Best you can do for your own peace of mind is to call her attention to it in every instance. EVERY INSTANCE. Maybe she will see a pattern. Maybe you will. Regardless, do it enough and it will become clear(er) to you if it's worth your time and energy to be in this relationship.
posted by Mysticalchick at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2009

Bottom line: If you say something to her, you need to be prepared to lose her as a friend.

I've been in this same position with a friend who claims expertise in dozens of fields and tells dumbfounding stories about her life experiences. A mutual friend confronted her about her behavior a few years ago and was immediately, brutally cut out of her life.

I realize this is one data point, but I think it's a telling one. I would be concerned that the deep insecurity the self-inflating friend feels would lead her to distance herself from you.

In the end, it may be the best thing for her, so I'm not telling you to avoid saying anything. Just be prepared for her to push you away.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:41 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

This IS tough. The problem is that someone who's constantly shouty, look-at-me about how awesome and expert they are (especially to the point of fudging the truth or making stuff up wholesale) may also have enough of a narcissistic streak that they crumple into defensive tears or rage if you (even gently) call them on it.
posted by availablelight at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

[...yeah, so what yellowcandy said.]
posted by availablelight at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2009

Please don't do the "bless your heart" thing, unless you're deliberately TRYING to be a passive-aggressive snot. Most people (at least most people that I know, ymmv) already know that it's "Southern" for "fuck you", or if they don't know that they can at least sense that it's a casual putdown, not a genuine sentiment. Don't do it unless you actually want to put the person down. Since this woman is your friend it doesn't sound like that's the route you want to take.

I think zoomorphic has it -- when she does the thing you don't want her to do, gently tell her she doesn't have to make herself sound more impressive for you to enjoy her company. Keep repeating it if needed. If she rejects you because of this, or pushes you away like yellowcandy warns about, then that's too bad, but cross that bridge if and when you come to it.
posted by palomar at 10:00 AM on December 10, 2009

Best answer: As long as you get that this is a chronic insecurity on her part, then you can work out a way to progress.

I have a friend like this too. Almosty everyone does.

With my friend that does it, I gently tease him. I let him understand that he's slipped from a mutual conversation to a sales pitch, that I find it one of those amusing quirks of friendship, but I'm not going to sit and listen politely to it without throwing very gentle barbs at him until he stops.

And then he stops. And we continue the conversation as if he hasn't just pitched at me and I haven't just rolled my eyes and pulled faces.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a friend like this. I love her but she's very insecure, and is always talking about how much better she is at x, y, or z than anyone else. She never makes these comments in a way that would be hurtful to those present however, and if it makes her feel better, I don't have a problem with it. I just humor her.

So I guess unless you are going to talk to her about it in order to help HER make life easier (for her) and as long as she's not bragging in a way that is hurtful to you, I say look at her with compassion and love and don't try and take her down a notch. She needs to self-aggrandize because she is deeply insecure. I suggest that instead you stroke her ego about things she's actually good at, to take her attn off the things she just likes to SAY she's good at, and eventually her bragging will focus on things that are, at least, accurate.

Ex: Friend: "I am basically a double black belt. I could kick Bruce Lee's ass.
You: "Well those brownies you brought to this party certainly kick ass. What's your secret?"
posted by np312 at 10:51 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Maybe she just needs to learn a more refined method of self-aggrandizement? Send her this link: Asserting Your Social Status With Your Facebook Status.

I'm not sure what the big deal is -- people do this all the time, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I've never known anyone who is this blatant, but it sounds charming and hilarious. To me, false modesty is much more irritating.

What's the real issue with being so overt? Rather than raising her status, it makes her look desperate, and you just got 17 comments confirming her low status. Maybe the real problem is that she sensitizes the people around her to status in general, making it harder to be subtle about the ways you try to raise your own status. You believe you aren't supposed to be concerned about status, but you do it anyway, and her behavior threatens to expose you.

Not to brag, but I pretty much have a Ph.D in being insightful, so you should listen to me. Don't feel bad though! Just hit the favorite button for this comment and you can let other people know that you are the kind of person who recognizes genius!
posted by AlsoMike at 11:18 AM on December 10, 2009

Best answer: I have a friend who is like this who is *so bad* that my partner can't stand him and I can't reasonably invite him over for social events because he's pissed people off so many times. It's pretty sad that the reason that those of us who are his friends hang out with him is partly to laugh at his "expertise" because he gets himself into some pretty hilarious Overinflated Ego moments: like that time he was at a party at my house and started correcting some Honest to Dog rocket scientists.

The weird part is that all of this ego really is covering up tremendous amounts of insecurity. It's incredibly frustrating to deal with, but recognizing that this person is bragging to make themselves believe that they're worthy of praise is an important mental shift to make. She's not trying to convince you of anything, but rather presenting herself as an expert helps her deal with her own negative self-image.

If you bring this up with her directly, you do have to be prepared to lose her as a friend. I've certainly had confrontations with friends about my perceived flaws, but in the end, they lead to the end of the friendship - not because I "couldn't handle the truth" but because it was just too emotionally difficult for me to maintain a friendship with someone who I then felt I had to justify myself to. Rational or not, I just couldn't deal with trying to work on my flaws and trying to "show" my friend that I was doing so.

Shifting the perception in your head to recognize that she is her own intended audience here and yeah, gently poking fun when she shifts the subject (like: "WOW, you're awesome, but how did we start talking about you? I thought we were talking about hydrogen!") are probably the best ways to deal if you want to maintain the friendship in addition to your sanity.

If your sanity is more important, you can try confronting her directly knowing that this runs a risk of ending the friendship, or you can simply spend less time with her. But if the friendship is what matters to you, you need to shift the way YOU think about her behavior rather than trying to change her.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:22 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just act genuinely interested. For instance, for "I am an expert in [thing]", ask "How long have you been doing it? Do you hold any degrees? Who were your instructors? Are you registered anywhere?" not in a challenging way, but in an "oh, gee, that's interesting, tell me more" way. At some point they'll have to make up lies, or start backpedaling. For "I am really good at [thing]", ask "Have you taught any classes? Have you looked into writing a book on the subject? Say, I have another friend who specializes in [thing], do you want to meet them?" You get the idea. Don't lie if you don't actually have a friend who specializes, though, that's just an example.

If they backpedal, it'll teach 'em to avoid saying that stuff so they won't have to backpedal again, and if they don't backpedal, sooner or later the lies will pile up and get too tiring for your friend to maintain, and they'll stop saying that stuff to avoid having to slog through it all.
posted by davejay at 1:13 PM on December 10, 2009

I did this all the time when I was much younger. I grew up in a tribe of high-achievers and was very insecure. One day, while riding in the car with a cousin and a distant uncle, I was correcting them both on their pronunciation of anole. I'll never forget what happened next. My uncle turned to my cousin and said, "you know, nobody likes a know-it-all." That phrase - though harsh - stuck with me pretty much my whole life. Because it's true - some people are here on Earth to have a good time and some are here to win. Nobody likes the folks who are keeping points.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:58 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I say be really direct.

"You know, I really really like you but I get tired of hearing about all the things that you are good at. You don't need to tell me - I already think you are great! Ok? Stop going off about how wonderful you are - it's like you don´t believe that I really love you, and I do!"

Then, whenever this person starts to go on and on about whatever it is they know more then someone one else, you just cut them off with a "Hey! We already talked about that, remember? I think you´re great!"

Say it all in a jokey kind of tone, like you´re being silly - that way they won't be able to get mad at you. She´ll be disconcerted (sounds like criticism!) but she'll be too interested in your approval (she´s joking with be cause she likes me!) to freak out on you. Then just cut her off each time she tries to do it again. She´ll shut up, but feel good (she loves me! she loves me!).

I don't have the patience. Good luck.
posted by Locochona at 7:31 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

If she can't even carry on a conversation without turning it back to her, there might be some underlying issues going on. Have a heart to heart with her and ask her how her life is going or if she is going through something, let her know that you are there for her. Other than that you could try to gently tell her that you notice her bragging and as her friend, she doesn't need to "prove" anything to you. This of course could back fire and she could become defensive. Ultimately you should turn to other family/friends to talk to when you need help and just know that when you get together with her, this is just how things are and try to focus on her positive qualities.
posted by lawgirl at 12:52 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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