Talk it up

Some­times it pays to brag

The Australian - The Deal - - Front Page - Cather­ine Fox

No one likes a show-off, par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia, but when it’s all for a good cause the rules may be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

An in­ter­est in eth­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing led mar­ket­ing aca­demic Jonathan Ber­man, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Lon­don School of Busi­ness, to ex­plore whether chest-thump­ing is ever war­ranted by in­di­vid­u­als or busi­nesses.

There’s a co­nun­drum when it comes to cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal or phil­an­thropic work, he says. If you don’t talk about it there’s a risk no one will know or take part; but if you do, it can look self-serv­ing and dam­age your rep­u­ta­tion.

And on the per­sonal side, the ubiq­uity of so­cial me­dia has mo­ti­vated many of us to give de­tailed re­ports on our ex­ploits, espe­cially when they make us look good. The dan­ger is that your lat­est post or tweet could come across as nar­cis­sism.

But there are also many ben­e­fits of com­mu­ni­cat­ing your good deeds, says Ber­man, whose re­search was de­signed to in­ves­ti­gate the trade-offs in brag­ging and ex­plore why more peo­ple aren’t show­ing off wildly, given the up­side.

The short an­swer to this “brag­gart’s dilemma”, as he puts it, is that some boast­ing is fine. But it’s know­ing how and when to do it that is cru­cial to avoid­ing cyn­i­cism from friends and back­lash from your mar­ket.

“Peo­ple know that be­ing gen­er­ous af­fords you rep­u­ta­tional ben­e­fits – it’s good to be seen as gen­er­ous,” he says. “But if some­one talks about their good deeds, brags about it or wears cer­tain prod­ucts to sig­nal that they are do­ing some­thing good, ob­servers may in turn come to the con­clu­sion that they didn’t do it be­cause they wanted to help but to im­prove their rep­u­ta­tion, and that rubs peo­ple up the wrong way. Brag­ging in gen­eral rubs peo­ple the wrong way. And it’s very hard to as­sess what some­one’s true in­ten­tions are.”

Get­ting the brag­ging equa­tion right has some im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for our be­hav­iour. It can help fos­ter what ethi­cist Peter Singer calls the cul­ture of giv­ing, be­cause watch­ing oth­ers do­nate to a char­ity can go vi­ral and prompt more of us to do the same or even see it as an obli­ga­tion. Al­though do­na­tions to char­ity have tra­di­tion­ally been anony­mous in the past, that may be miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity to spread the word.

These days con­sumers face a lot of ten­sion when it comes to be­ing eth­i­cal in the mar­ket­place and it of­ten comes at a cost, such as higher prices or lower qual­ity for green or sus­tain­ably pro­duced goods. We’re all bet­ter in­formed than a decade ago, and that has an im­pact on the mes­sages from busi­ness. There’s a fine line, for ex­am­ple, be­tween the right amount of in­for­ma­tion on en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly prod­ucts and “green­wash­ing”.

Con­sumers do seek out prod­ucts that are eth­i­cal and are look­ing for in­for­ma­tion about them, but if there’s a whiff of in­sin­cer­ity, that will re­bound, Ber­man says.

While we may not be more cyn­i­cal, our daily diet of so­cial me­dia from in­di­vid­u­als and

Con­sumers do seek out prod­ucts that are eth­i­cal and are look­ing for in­for­ma­tion about them, but if there’s a whiff of in­sin­cer­ity, that will re­bound.

com­pa­nies means the stakes are much higher now as we are all bom­barded with mes­sag­ing. It’s hard to come up with good tar­geted mes­sages when the sheer quan­tity of in­for­ma­tion is so dense.

Re­search on so­cial me­dia has also found that peo­ple are fun­da­men­tally self-cen­tred, Ber­man says, and we want to im­prove how oth­ers see us. And it’s hard to tar­get mes­sages to a broad so­cial me­dia au­di­ence, so we de­fault to post­ing pic­tures of our lat­est hol­i­day.

But there’s good news for those who be­lieve chest-thump­ing and a slick sales pitch can con­fer an un­fair ad­van­tage in the work­place. Plenty of stud­ies show that in­ter­views are a poor pre­dic­tor of job suc­cess, Ber­man says, and good spruik­ers may show they are so­cially ca­pa­ble but not much else be­yond that.

Re­search also shows that nar­cis­sists may be very well liked ini­tially, but the var­nish wears off. The first time you hear some­one brag you may think “this is good”, says Ber­man, but then when you hear it over and over again it’s not pro­vid­ing new in­for­ma­tion and it’s just an­noy­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.