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annoyed by a braggart

Question

No matter what one has or does, I have a friend who always says, “I’ve done that” or “I have bigger and better.” How is the best way to tell him that the reason other people avoid him is because he always has to “top” what they’ve done or have? Our friendship is often strained when he pulls this card on me.

Answer

Many times when someone tries to “one up” a person, he (or she) is not really boasting so much as trying to validate that he is deserving of your time and attention.  What you’re hearing is: “I’ve done that” or “I have bigger and better,” but the meaning behind the words is more like “you are really impressive, I need to prove that I’m worthy of your friendship.”  If you can understand this a little bit, you might be able to shift your thinking so that his behavior doesn’t bother you as much.

That being said, it would be a benefit for your friend, and for your friendship if you did approach him.  You can’t really speak for the general population, but you can talk with your friend about how this habit of his makes you feel.  If you bring up the subject right after he’s made one of these comments then he’ll likely get defensive.  Instead, choose a relaxed time when it is just the two of you and tell him that something has been on your mind and you’d like to talk with him about it.

Start by affirming how important his friendship is to you.  You might say: “Henry, I want you to know that I know you are very accomplished and successful.  But that’s not what is important to me, and that’s not why we’re friends.  What I value about you is your loyalty, your sense of humor, and your honesty.”  Or, fill in the blanks, whatever it is that you like about him.  By then you’ll see that he’s listening to you, so you can continue with: “sometimes I feel like my own accomplishments are diminished when I’m sharing them with you, because I get one-upped.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not competing with you.  When I talk with you I’m letting you in on what is going on in my life.”  Put it in your own words, but use “I” messages, talk about yourself, so your friend doesn’t feel attacked or blamed.  Then, to replace the old behavior with a new one, make a suggestion, for example: “I guess there are times when I’d appreciate a high-five or something, nothing more.  Do you think we could do that?”

Sit back and see how he responds.  Stay open, and keep it light – you don’t have to go into detail or give specific examples.  He’ll get the message.  It may take him some time to process, but when the opportunity comes along for him to one-up again, he’ll stop and think.  Will he think fast enough to stop himself?  Maybe not at first, it takes practice to develop a new skill.  If you catch him falling into his old habit again, raise your hand in a high-five or give him a fist bump, whatever it is to kind of remind him of your conversation.  Pretty soon he will see what a positive difference this new behavior makes in his other relationships as well.

~Lissa