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Modesty pays off!

door Beheerder


Status differences are common in face-to-face groups. It is a fact of organizational life that high status individuals are generally granted exclusive rights to control group interactions, make decisions for the entire group, and give verbal directives to their lower status peers. Low status individuals, on the other hand, usually submit to the opinion of their higher status colleagues, inhibit the expression of their ideas and receive less resources and less social support from their work surroundings.        

Due to its potential privileges, people usually strive for a higher status. However, in pursuit of high status, some individuals tend to inflate their status-valued characteristics in order to construct a positive self-view and maintain their self-esteem. For example, research shows that people form immoderately optimistic self-perceptions on their intelligence, physical abilities, personality traits and physical attractiveness. Likewise, people choose to emphasize information which allows them to think that they possess higher status than they actually do. How does this status-enhancement strategy affect individuals and the functioning of their group as a whole? Is modesty more appreciated by peers and colleagues than an unrealistic picture of what one can actually achieve?

Research findings suggest that when group members engage in status self-enhancement and overestimate their influence on others, they are usually socially rejected, less admired and considered as less enjoyable to be around. Consequently, status-enhancers are less preferred as future work partners since their peers find it difficult to confide in these people’s sincerity. Moreover, in the extreme case, narcissistic people are believed to not only self-enhance excessively but also to openly exploit other people for egotistical reasons. Research suggests that people high in self-esteem engage in more aggressive behavior when their self-esteem is overinflated or unstable. Egoistical attitude and aggression surely damage the image of self-enhancers in the eyes of their colleagues. 

People with a balanced self-presentation are regarded as more honest, interpersonally pleasant, and authentic than status-enhancers. This is not only because modest people have reduced tendencies to self-enhance but also because they are believed to have a secure self-esteem inside. Therefore, modesty, an originally Eastern phenomenon, may be more positively regarded in Western culture than is commonly predicted. Modest people are seen as highly pro-social and agreeable, i.e., willing to assist other people when they are in need. This attributes even higher status to modest individuals as providing help to fellow group members increases the value of modest people to their collectives and thereby improves their standing within the social order.

Studies on modesty and humility indicate that concern for group membership makes it less likely for individuals to self-enhance. The need to maintain membership to a particular group can be so dominating that modest individuals act overly humble, polite, and considerate to avoid interpersonal conflicts and increase their liking and social acceptance. Status enhancement, on the other hand, challenges the existing status order and raises conflict in groups. People generally dislike a status-enhancer’s unjustified demand for superiority and socially punish that claim. Due to its frictional consequences, status enhancement is considered to lower group performance and undermine the realization of common goals.

(Based on the findings from Anderson, Srivastava, Beer, Spataro & Chatman (2006) “Knowing Your Place: Self-Perceptions of Status in Face-to-Face Groups” and Gregg, Hart, Sedikides & Kumashiro (2008) “Everyday Conceptions of Modesty: A Prototype Analysis”.)

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