Why You Should Help Everybody Brag About Themselves

If you want people to like you, get them talking — about themselves.

Why You Should Help Everybody Brag About Themselves
[Image: Flickr user Luke Ma]

You were probably raised to believe that no one will like you if you talk about yourself all the time.


But a body of research shows that you can make people like you by getting them to talk about themselves.

The University of Pennsylvania psychologist Adam Grant wrote what might be the year’s best organizational psych book, Give and Take to illustrate that giving to people is the primary predictor of career success.

Here are the quickest ways to give people the perception that you’re giving to them. (Which isn’t nearly so manipulative as it sounds.)

Get people to talk about themselves

Harvard neuroscientists have found that talking about ourselves gives us the same signals of pleasure in the brain as food or money.

“Self-disclosure is extra rewarding,” Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir tells the Wall Street Journal. “People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves.”


Thus the efficacy of the humblebrag: at the level of brain cells and synapses it’s too rewarding to not share our thoughts.

Ask These Two Questions

Small talk gets gruesome, especially when we’re crutching along asking so, what do you do? The research of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman helps us circumvent that weirdness, as people’s evaluations of themselves get primed by the questions you ask.

He provides a takeaway from an experiment in Thinking, Fast and Slow: undergraduates were asked about their lives in two orders. They were either asked:

  • about their lives in general
  • then about their romantic lives


  • they were asked about their romantic lives
  • then asked about their lives in general

The result? The kids in the second group said their lives were way worse than those in the first. Why? Because reflecting on their (perhaps underwhelming) dating lives colored their self perception.


So, in order to make people feel good about themselves, first ask about something positive happening in their lives, then open up into greater generalities.

Listen to–and repeat back–their last three words

When hostage negotiators are trying to talk someone down, they repeat what the person is saying back to them–this builds rapport. Giving someone your fullest attention like this, is called deep listening. But if you’re not fluent in deep listening, you can hack it. As The Week contributor Eric Barker says, you can just parrot back the last three words they said in “a sympathetic, questioning tone,” which gives the conversation bat to them.

Barker’s reasoning:

(Repeating their last three words) shows you’re listening and interested, and it lets them get back to telling their story. You’ve got to be slightly savvy about this one, but it’s surprisingly effective.

Hat tip: The Week

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.