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Sep 7, 2021 Business Administration Faculty Research in Education

Sharing is caring — How “bragging” impacts interpersonal relationships

Nobody likes a braggart. At the same time, no one wants to be the last to hear when good things happen to their friends. So where do we draw the line when it comes to talking about the big events in our lives? Is it better to put it all out there, or wiser to hold things back? According to Gies organizational behavior professor Oscar Ybarra, it depends.

“When it comes to the people we’re close to, they expect us to divulge positive things happening in our lives,” said Ybarra. In fact, capitalization — or sharing good personal news — is one of the ways we bond with other people. Sharing the details about our lives boosts feelings of relational quality and intimacy, which in turn creates a sense of inclusion and well-being. Which means that, when it comes to close relationships, being too worried about bragging may actually elicit negative outcomes by hindering the close exchange that our friends expect. In other words, your mother was right — sharing is caring.

Outside the tight bonds of friendship, however, it’s a different story. When Ybarra studied social media’s effects on emotional outcomes, he found that bragging had a negative effect. “People tend to want to post just the positive side and all the wonderful things going on, maybe even ratcheting up the positivity of their experiences,” he said. But that leads to social comparison, which can lead to trouble because when we think everyone is doing better than us, we tend to feel bad about ourselves.

Ybarra is one of the world’s top experts on how social interaction and relationships influence the brain and mind. His research has been reported widely by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets, and even been presented during US Congressional hearings.

He’s particularly interested in the science of personal achievement, and conducts work that tends to turn our obsession with individualism on its head, showing that the key to success depends less on optimizing ourselves and more on optimizing our relationships.

“I’m really interested in how people can leverage their relationships to amplify their own capacity,” explained Ybarra. “We all have various skills, but it’s through our interactions and relations with each other that we can really sharpen those skills.” According to Ybarra, these interactions, even when brief, help us think better, improving our ability to focus, keep things in mind and deal with distractions. “People who have short interactions with somebody, even if it last for just 10 minutes, actually show performance improvements on these measures of cognitive function.”

Ybarra is joining Gies’ Department of Business Administration after 25 years at the University of Michigan, where he was professor of psychology and professor of management and organizations (now emeritus), as well as faculty associate at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research. In addition to a passion for psychology, he has a deep interest in entrepreneurship, which he nurtured at Michigan, starting his own company and serving as director of Innovate Blue — a highly rated, undergraduate program on innovation and entrepreneurship. Working from the provost’s office, he helped unify the efforts of 15 different programs, creating a campus-wide minor in entrepreneurship that’s become one of the largest minors at the school.

At Gies, Ybarra will be teaching 300-level classes in management and organizations, where he hopes to help students develop a sense of optimism and efficacy, by helping them understand organizational behavior — and their place within it. On a broader level, he says he also looks forward to working with new colleagues and making a difference at his chosen school. “I really want to provide some value, not only to the College, but to the discipline and to people in general who are interested in making organizations run better.”