Want to get ahead? Be more humble

Try not to show off.
Try not to show off.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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It should go without saying that being humble makes you more likable than being arrogant. Previous research has indicated that the humble are more quickly integrated into new groups, and that people are more likely to accept and collaborate with them. But humility can help your love life as well.

In a 2013 study (paywall), psychologist Daryl Van Tongeren told Quartz, he and other researchers examined how people perceived as humble collaborated with others. “You can’t exactly report on your own humility,” he says, “because that would kind of be bragging about it.” But those whom others rated as being more humble were able to form stronger social bonds as they worked to complete a task. Greater perceived humility led to faster acceptance by the group, and a higher status in it later on.

“Humility also facilitates forgiveness,” Van Tongeren says. People are more likely to blame braggarts for their faults. “It’s safe to say we’d all rather be friends with a humble individual,” Van Tongeren says, “But it’s probably also desirable among colleagues.”

According to a new study (paywall), humility makes a romantic relationship smoother, too. Just as coworkers and classmates will welcome a humble newcomer more quickly than a big-headed one, suitors find humble romantic prospects more attractive. This isn’t to say that everyone will be turned off by confidence and arrogance. “It seems to be that, while narcissism may be attractive at first blush,” Van Tongeren says, “you know, when someone seems to be the life of the party—that routine can get old pretty quickly. The narcissistic tend to burn bridges and sour relationships, and as soon as you’re thinking in terms of a substantive and committed relationship, you start looking for humility.”

And the power of humility extends beyond the first inklings of a relationship. “Because of that tendency to forgive that we’d seen in previous studies,” Van Tongeren says, “we wanted to see what happens in a particularly high-pressure, stressful bond.”

So the researchers examined people who were dating long-distance. These people generally reported higher rates of “unforgiveness”—that is, holding a grudge about some offense from the past several months—towards their partners than people dating and living in the same area. When one partner was perceived as being more humble, he or she was more likely to be forgiven. Van Tongeren is now involved in a study that will examine the effects of humility on committed relationships over the course of two years.

The authors of the study point out that they only examined Americans, and it’s possible that other cultures value a bigger ego. And before you start self-deprecating in front of your coworkers and dates, a word of caution: Since the authors didn’t investigate the upper limits of the effect, we’ve no way of knowing how much humility is enough to make you insufferable all over again.