February 19, 2021

The Harm of Being Secretive About Success

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We love to take on challenges and love it even more when we succeed. Accepting a higher-paying job and a better title isn't hard, but for some reason, a lot of us struggle with sharing the news with our besties or fave cubicle mate. Hiding successes is pretty common, as discovered by a recent study, where a whopping 82% of their participants admitted to hiding a success from someone else.

Being secretive with our success may seem like the right thing to do, but it may be harming us and our relationships.

This isn't shocking, given the social norms we're used to and the negative perception we have of others who openly share their achievements. So as we go about our day and rack on success after another, we often downplay or completely omit any mention of said success to avoid seeming braggy, boastful, or arrogant. Though being secretive with our success seems like the right thing to do, it may actually be harming us and our relationships.
win-trophy

Successes and achievements can signal competence and strength. Photo credit.

A 2020 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at the consequences of hiding successes from others - family, friends, or strangers. Participants of the study said that they refrain from sharing their success for reasons we're all familiar with:
  • They don't want to make others jealous or feel lesser of themselves
  • They don't want to brag
  • They didn't want to feel awkward
They hid their success about work and school, something that would give them high status, their wealth, or a personal event or goal. They hid things like their degree, promotions, good grades, acceptance to significant events, and others. Even though the participants had good intentions for keeping their accomplishments to themselves, the study uncovered the damage these white lies can have.

The Downside

The first harm done when hiding an accomplishment is to the person doing the hiding. Your successes and achievements signal to others that you're competent and have strengths in a particular area. Keeping quiet can put you at risk of being passed up for a better job, project, or event (meetings or conferences) that could enhance your life or career.
Another unwanted consequence of keeping your successes a secret is that it may make others trust or like you less. Seems counterintuitive, right? Well, according to the science, being secretive about your success (or anything for that matter) can make you seem shady and appear as if you're hiding something. Of course, people quickly assume the worst, so they often think your secret is worst than it is.

Communication is the bond that grows and sustains relationships

Not only will others think you're hiding a deep dark secret, but it can also deteriorate or slow the growth of relationships. Communication is the bond that grows and sustains relationships. When you're uncomfortable with sharing your accomplishments, be it personal or professional, it's harder to get to know you. Another downside is that you may hurt or insult the other person you were hiding your accomplishment from, especially if they hear the news from someone else. That stings.
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