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Do Braggarts Turn You Off?

June 26th, 2006 by Bob Bly

Have you ever noticed that many people feel the need to build themselves up by tearing others down?

At a party, I was introduced by the host to another guest.

“What do you do?” he asked me — a good way to start a conversation.

“I am a direct mail writer,” I replied.

Immediately he frowned, as if smelling garbage.

“I never reply to that junk,” he said haughtily. “I throw it all right in the trash.”

Feeling about 2 feet tall, I asked him politely, “What do YOU do?”

“I am a chiropractor,” he answered with an air of superiority.

“Oh, I never go to chiropractors,” I wanted to tell him, “I throw all their advertisements right in the trash.”

After the party, I conveyed this story to my wife, who said she was glad I didn’t say the above … and that it would have been rude to do so.

But why? Didn’t he just say the same thing to me?

Perhaps I should have pointed out to him that we both had something in common — neither of us, apparently, could get into medical school….


This entry was posted on Monday, June 26th, 2006 at 10:44 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

53 responses about “Do Braggarts Turn You Off?”

  1. Heather Cook said:

    Apathy is always the best revenge in those situations.

  2. Neil Sagebiel said:

    Braggarts are not appealing for a simple reason: They’re focused on themselves.

    My former next-door neighbor from Seattle who visited us recently in Virginia was working in our local library when he met two men. Both were bright and friendly. One he liked and the other turned him off.


    Because the second man managed to inform my friend about the man’s many college degrees (doctorate from Cal Berkeley, etc.) within the first five minutes of meeting!

  3. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:


    Whenever I tell people I’m a direct mail copywriter–and that I wrote sweepstakes promotions for 13 years–I invariably get the same response:
    “Oh, so YOU’RE the guy!…”


  4. Bob Bly said:

    MS: The one I hear most often is: “why do you make those letters so long … nobody has time to read them … you would get more orders if you made the copy short.”

  5. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Some article I read suggested saying, “Ouch!” when some dope makes a dopey comment like the chiropractor. I guess I’d try it it I had any sense it would penetrate their thick hides. Oh, well, Bob – at least your wife was happy!

  6. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:


    Yes, people seem to hate those long letters. (Makes you wonder why they almost always get better response than short letters!)

    After years of explaining that no, copywriters don’t arrange copyrights… and no, I don’t design ads…. I finally hit on the ultimate conversation stopper: If the sweepstakes didn’t get them…I tell people: “I write JUNK MAIL.”


  7. Lisa Taylor Huff said:

    Hmmm… is it better to get the haughty reaction with the nose wrinkling in disgust, or a blank stare when someone asks you “what do you do?” I’ve had the latter reaction and it’s pretty darned uncomfortable, too.

  8. Bob McCarthy said:

    Come on Bob … after all these years, you must have a pretty good idea what kind of reaction you’re going to get when you introduce yourself as a direct mail writer.

    Of all the ways you could describe yourself – a writer, a marketing writer, an author (of what, 50 books??), a direct marketing consultant – a “direct mail writer” is clearly the most provocative.

    I’m not suggesting any of us should be ashamed of that description, but let’s not be surprised by the reaction.

    Bob McCarthy
    Direct Mail Writer

  9. Craig Hysell said:

    I find it amusing when I meet people who base my worth (and theirs) on the size of a bank account or employment. It is akin to something as superficial as judging a book by its cover and usually leads me to this conclusion: the person’s judgment is perpetually skewed in such a manner that their opinion of me becomes as meritless as the conversation.
    I usually end the unfortunate meeting as quickly- and politely- as social grace allows.

    Humility is knowing that greatness is an opinion. Nobody worth a damn has ever had to tell anybody they were.

  10. Chris Yeh said:

    When I was starting my last company, and people asked me what I did, I would tell them, “I’m an unemployed bum.” Best opening line I ever wrote.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    BM: Actually, my answer to “What do you do?” is: “Do you know how you get a lot of junk mail at home and at the office?” When they say “yes,” I continue, “Well, I write junk mail.” The problem with your suggestion is, unlike you, I am NOT a consultant primarily — I am a copywriter, and proud of it. But the general public doesn’t know what that is.

  12. Heather L. Koppes said:

    You made the right choice by not retaliating with a comment that would have gone in one ear and out the other of his cement head. However, it might have been funny to say, “Well, enough people do open up my direct mail pieces and respond to keep me in the lap of luxury.” Nah, he would have just figured you were being defensive.

  13. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Remember 20 years ago… when DM News wouldn’t even use the phrase “Junk Mail”?! It was taboo! Some DM publications even used to spell it J**k M**l! After they lifted the ban, I wrote an article in DM News called “Confessions of a Junk Mail Junkie!”

  14. Bob Bly said:

    HLK: I’d never make a comment to someone like that in personal conversation, because it is bragging. Not only do I find boasting distasteful, but it also turns the other person off. And there are already too many people in marketing with swelled heads today telling us how great they are.

  15. Rich Westerfield said:

    Personally I would’ve noted how a chiropractor once put me on short term disability…

    But to digress, in such situations I’ve always wanted to reply with something like this bit from “about last night…”, but could never pull the trigger:

    Her: “And what do you do?”
    Him: “You know much about professional boxing?”
    Her: “No”
    Him: “I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.”

  16. Joseph Ratliff said:

    Promoting yourself and being a braggart are two different things…

    Promoting yourself can be done in a professional manner, and bragging almost never can.

    Joe Ratliff
    Professional Copywriter

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    I like the 2 step answer.
    What do you do for a living?

    You know how some businesses have such a difficult time trying to describe what they do so they will get the perfect customer?

    Yeah, I have that problem, too.

    I help those businesses come up with the words to do that.

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