You know the feeling. No matter what you say, your friend or colleague just has to top it.
A better car. An exotic vacation. More prestigious colleges for their children. Here’s one of my favorite examples, relayed on the website, www.lesspenguiny.com:
Me: “I had the most amazing Indian food recently.”
One-upper: “Which restaurant? To be honest, you really can’t get good Indian food in America. You really have to visit India for the authentic experience.”
Me: “Exactly — that’s where I ate. I arrived back from Goa last night.”
One-upper: “Ah, but did you eat in Peep Kitchen? It’s by far the best, but it takes three weeks to get a reservation.”
Me: “OMG. Their paneer tikka masala is to die for!”
One-upper: “Oh, yea, well, did Mr. Patel sing the entire Lion King soundtrack to you while serving you papadum?”
It’s like the one-uppers are lying in wait, ready to pounce with a bigger and better story. This is a pet peeve of my friend, Diane. She laments that people like this are not really listening to understand what you’re saying. They’re only listening to figure out what they’re going to say next.
One of the biggest offenders I’ve noticed has to do with health. Whenever you mention an ailment, the one-upper just has to relay their litany of aches and pains.
You may even be unwittingly engaging in this behavior. What’s up with that? Maybe you think you’re just relating, although your behavior comes off as very off-putting.
Where does one-upmanship originate?
My research turned up several theories about up-upmanship. People embellish because they’re insecure. They want to be accepted.
One-uppers work hard — weaving elaborate stories — to get the admiration they crave. An extreme level of fear often drives them to think they don’t measure up, so they overcompensate.
A person raised to believe that “more” makes you better will suffer from a lack of confidence — because there’s always going to be someone who has more.
This behavior may stem from childhood conditioning by parents who reinforced the notion that we are the things we have. Or that we are our accomplishments.
That’s the thing, though. You can only one-up someone in terms of material things and achievements. Not those intrinsic qualities — and talents — that make up the core of one’s essence.
Our stories compete for attention
Here’s an example — shared by howtohappy.com — in which someone is telling a story about a traumatic experience — and their friend interrupts.
“I got in a car crash. Another car ran me off the road. As I switched lanes, BOOM! I got pushed right into another car ...”
At that moment, the friend jumps in and says, “I got in a crash like that, but instead of two cars, there were three. It was just like yours, but way worse.”
This conversation likely went off the rails. The first person was sharing an emotional experience — and didn’t feel “heard” by the second person.
The second person may have the attitude, “I was only trying to relate to you by telling you a similar story. I was showing how we’ve had similar experiences so we could bond over it — and deepen our relationship. Why would that hamper the spirit of the conversation?”
Dealing with a one-upper
Based on my experience, along with helpful hints from the website, www.aconsciousethink.com, here are some strategies for coping with one-uppers:
- Change the subject. Switch gears to a topic the other person can’t brag about.
- Temper your reactions. A one-upper is typically looking for validation to feed their ego. Just remain calm and unimpressed. Look around, or don’t respond at all
- Directly confront them about their behavior. This is best done in private, so you can ask if they realize their behavior comes off as one-upmanship, even if that’s not their intention.
Could you be one-upping without meaning to?
If you’re wondering whether you may be unconsciously engaging in one-upmanship, take a look at where you fall on the continuum of secure and insecure personality types.
Secure people don’t name drop, fish for compliments, or focus on their religious or political views. They don’t pursue shameless self-promotion, dominate conversations, or obsess over how many “likes” they get on social media.
You can always take baby steps to change. Let someone else take the spotlight for a change. You don’t need to try so hard to get strokes from others.
You can still tell your stories
This is not to say you shouldn’t tell anyone when you’ve had similar experiences. Just be aware of how you’re coming across. Engage them in conversation by asking questions about their experience first — not just bulldozing ahead with your story.
When you pay attention to these things, it shows the other person you’re listening — and that you care about what they’re saying. When people feel cared about, they walk away feeling better. Perhaps, even liking you better.
And isn’t that what you were after in the first place?