DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a 25-year-old law student at a school that is not nearly as competitive and cutthroat as some. For the most part, my classmates are positive people and we are genuinely supportive of each other’s accomplishments. Of course, there are a few classic “gunners,” and I simply avoid talking to them and don’t associate with them in or out of class.
However, there is one girl, just on the outskirts of our group, who considers me a friend and who is a classic example of a self-deprecating braggart. She makes crystal-clear how smart, busy and accomplished she is, all while saying how stupid, lazy and useless she is.
She once “complained” about getting A’s on her papers because that meant she didn’t get feedback from the professors. She once “complained” about her exam answer being posted as the model answer because she “literally didn’t even know what she was writing about.”
She hopes you have a good weekend because she’s working as a waitress and “doesn’t even know what a weekend is anymore.” She is also guilty of interrupting you to remind you, again, how stupid/lazy/useless she is and never letting you finish a thought.
I fantasize about telling her to SHUT UP, and that it’s unbearably annoying to listen to her talk. However, on a softer side, I want to tell her this because I know how others find it annoying, too. It’s a terrible quality to have, and flat-out won’t serve her well in her chosen profession. Hypothetically, do you want your attorney to start your defense by saying, “I’m sorry, Judge, I’m really bad at this and hardly even practiced my opening argument ...”
As a girl in the same area as her, I completely understand the habit of putting yourself down to avoid coming across as OVER-confident, as well as avoiding the stigma of being labeled a “bitch.” But like I said, I think she’s crossing the threshold and she’s doing a disservice to herself.
Is there any way I can serve my own interest of getting her to stop while also trying to offer any kind of advice of how to conduct herself in a professional arena? Again, please picture a hypothetical prosecutor going to defense counsel and saying, “Oh my God, I’m sure you’ll win. I have a 100 percent conviction rate, but I’m so bad at talking in public and juries never like me!”
GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, the humble-brag, which is beloved of people who have been taught not to boast but can’t help themselves. So they figure that if they do it upside-down, it won’t count against them.
Miss Manners is grateful that you agree that “Oh, shut up,” while tempting, is out of the question. But it is not rude to ignore the subtext and offer sympathy.
If you say, “Oh, that’s too bad,” your friend will think that you misunderstood, and be tempted to ruin her conceit by saying, “No, I got an A.” Or you can say, “Really? You were faking and the professor fell for it? I thought he was smarter than that.”
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)