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Backhanded Compliments: How Negative Comparisons Undermine Flattery

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... Impression mismanagement also occurs when people strive to achieve two somewhat conflicting self-presentational goals: eliciting liking and attaining status. An example is the delivery of backhanded compliments ( Sezer, Brooks, & Norton, 2016), that is, compliments that draw a comparison with a negative standard from both the flatterer's and the recipient's perspective (e.g., "You are smart for an intern"). People often give compliments to gain favorable impressions ( Liden & Mitchell, 1988), as recipients view those who pay compliments in favorable light ( Gordon, 1996;Jones, Stires, Shaver, & Harris, 1968). ...
... At the same time, people are deeply concerned about their status and relative ranking ( Anderson, Hildreth, & Howland, 2015;Mahadevan, Gregg, Sedikides, & De Waal-Andrews, 2016). Actors deploy backhanded compliments to communicate superior status and garner liking ( Sezer et al., 2016). However, recipients of these backhanded compliments and third party evaluators grant the actor neither, because they view these compliments as subtle but strategic put-downs through which the actor attempts to assert or relay their superiority. ...
... Also, they mismanage their impression under the influence of high levels of narcissism, boomeranging into social or relational awkwardness ( Sedikides et al., 2015b). These antecedents are associated, independently or jointly, with implementation of suboptimal impression management strategies, such as (a) miscalculating the negative consequences of their self-presentation tactics on the way an observer would think about himself or herself ( Hoorens et al., 2012); (b) trying to combine bragging, complaining, and appearing humble (humblebragging), thus ending up with a disapproving audience ( Sezer et al., 2017); (c) behaving in a hypocritical manner, thus risking that their cover is later blown ( Laurent et al., 2014); and (d) delivering backhanded compliments, and consequently engendering audience disapproval ( Sezer et al., 2016). We discussed these strategies because of the striking discrepancy between the intention behind them and their likely outcome. ...
Article
People routinely manage the impressions they make on others, attempting to project a favorable self-image. The bulk of the literature has portrayed people as savvy self-presenters who typically succeed at conveying a desired impression. When people fail at making a favorable impression, such as when they come across as braggers, regulatory resource depletion is to blame. Recent research, however, has identified antecedents and strategies that foster systematic impression management failures (independently of regulatory resource depletion), suggesting that self-presenters are far from savvy. In fact, they commonly mismanage their impressions without recognizing it. We review failed perspective taking and narcissism as two prominent antecedents of impression mismanagement. Further, we argue that failed perspective taking, exacerbated by narcissism, contributes to suboptimal impression management strategies, such as hubris, humblebragging, hypocrisy, and backhanded compliments. We conclude by discussing how self-presenters might overcome some of the common traps of impression mismanagement.
... We build on work that has found that individuals often engage in ineffective impression management tactics (Steinmetz et al., 2017). These tactics include humblebragging, boastful behavior that fails to boost interpersonal impressions (Sezer, Gino, & Norton, 2017), backhanded compliments (Sezer, Brooks, & Norton, 2018), attempts to hide one's own successes (Roberts Levine, & Sezer, 2020), and overlyfriendly communication strategies in negotiation (Jeong, Minson, Yeomans, & Gino, 2019). In each of these cases, individuals mis-predict the consequences of their conversational strategies on their counterparts. ...
Article
Within a conversation, individuals balance competing objectives, such as the motive to gather information and the motive to create a favorable impression. Across five experimental studies (N = 1427), we show that individuals avoid asking sensitive questions because they believe that asking sensitive questions will make their conversational partners uncomfortable and cause them to form negative perceptions. We introduce the Communication Motives and Expectations Model and we demonstrate that the aversion to asking sensitive questions is often misguided. Question askers systematically overestimate the impression management and interpersonal costs of asking sensitive questions. In conversations with friends and with strangers and in both face-to-face and computer-mediated conversations, respondents formed similarly favorable impressions of conversational partners who asked sensitive questions (e.g., “How much is your salary?”) as they did of conversational partners who asked non-sensitive questions (e.g., “How do you get to work?”). We assert that individuals make a potentially costly mistake when they avoid asking sensitive questions, as they overestimate the interpersonal costs of asking sensitive questions.
... Spooner (2020) noted that one comment frequently given to Deaf writers, is that they are told they are "good writers" with the unstated follow up "for a deaf person." Such microaggressions lead to reduced motivation and self-doubt about their writing abilities (Sezer et al., 2018). Therefore, Deaf students miss the opportunities to learn and become comfortable with academic writing, which prevents them from publishing articles. ...
... We build on work that has found that individuals often engage in ineffective impression management tactics (Steinmetz et al., 2017). These tactics include humblebragging, boastful behavior that fails to boost interpersonal impressions (Sezer, Gino, & Norton, 2017), backhanded compliments (Sezer, Brooks, & Norton, 2018), attempts to hide one's own successes (Roberts Levine, & Sezer, 2020), and overlyfriendly communication strategies in negotiation (Jeong, Minson, Yeomans, & Gino, 2019). In each of these cases, individuals mis-predict the consequences of their conversational strategies on their counterparts. ...
Article
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3437468 ********************* Within a conversation, individuals balance competing concerns, such as the motive to gather information and the motives to avoid discomfort and to create a favorable impression. Across three pilot studies and four experimental studies, we demonstrate that individuals avoid asking sensitive questions, because they fear making others uncomfortable and because of impression management concerns. We demonstrate that this aversion to asking sensitive questions is both costly and misguided. Even when we incentivized participants to ask sensitive questions, participants were reluctant to do so in both face-to-face and computer-mediated chat conversations. Interestingly, rather than accurately anticipating how sensitive questions will influence impression formation, we find that question askers significantly overestimate the interpersonal costs of asking sensitive questions. Across our studies, individuals formed similarly favorable impressions of partners who asked non-sensitive (e.g., “Are you a morning person?”) and sensitive (e.g., “What are your views on abortion?”) questions, despite askers’ reticence to ask sensitive questions.
Article
Impression management is a fundamental aspect of social life. From self-promotion to feedback giving, from advice-seeking to networking, people frequently find themselves in situations where they need to make a positive impression on others. Despite the long-term benefits of making a favorable impression, impression-management attempts can backfire in unintended ways. In this article, I review recent research on self-presentation, social cognition, and communication to explain when and why people have misguided intuitions about their impressions on others, document common impression-management mistakes, and propose more effective strategies to minimize actor-target asymmetries in social interactions. This review provides a theoretical framework to understand the psychology of impression (mis)management, as well as the risks and rewards of different self-presentation strategies.
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