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False Modesty

 

Techniques > Conversation techniques > Conversational Traps > False Modesty

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

In conversation, when a person is praised or is revealed to have done something praiseworthy, it presents a dilemma for them. Do they smile and boast or do they act modestly, downplaying their achievements?

A third way, often used by people who would like to boast but know the social perils of this, is to use false modesty.

False modesty appears where a person downplays praiseworthy achievements, but does so in a visible or extended way that actually seeks praise and a raising of their social status.

Types of false modesty include:

  • Talking at length around the event without actually claiming credit
  • Brief dismissal of points coupled with direct gaze and pauses that invite further praise.
  • Bringing up the subject then downplaying one's own part.

Example

Well, it was just luck really. I happened to be there when people were being picked.

Yes, by I wasn't that brave...

Discussion

False modesty done well is so subtle it achieves its goals of further praise and status. In practice, however, it is often detected and leads to the opposite effect. Deceivers tend to think they are cleverer than the other person but do not notice their failure to deceive as they are stuck in their own heads.

For modesty to work, briefly acknowledge deserved praise but avoid acting in ways that actively seek further admiration. In particular do not act in ways that promote yourself over others. Be a little embarrassed by praise but do not over-do this as it may be too effective.

See also

Status Games

 

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