Do you have many friends? Do you want to have more friends? “Real” friends, mind you, not just casual acquaintances. Have you lost some friends, and maybe don’t know why? What qualities do you look for in friends? While there are many answers to these questions, today I am going to focus on one aspect only.
Just the other day I ran into a friend of mine, who was so excited because he was going on a week-long vacation to Hawaii. “Vacation?” I replied sarcastically (I have been known to become sarcastic once in a while…I know it is hard to believe, me..the stress guru, sarcastic?) “What’s a vacation?” I continued in my mock-serious tone.
Obviously he knew I was joking. However, if I had continued to elaborate on my comment by providing some over-the-top reason for not taking a vacation, for example, something like, “I am so busy at the hospital, and writing a book, AND writing this dang newsletter, AND watching the next Food Network Star that I have not been able to take any time off,” it would cross the line and become an example of, what is called one-upping. Of course, what I said does not qualify as one-upmanship, because…well, because I said so.
So, what is one-upmanship, and are you a one-upper? One-upmanship is when you try to outdo someone else by showing that you are better/bigger/smarter/sexier/more athletic than they are. You have more gizmos than they have. Your experiences are better than theirs.
There are 3 essential criteria for one-upmanship:
- You are telling a story about something good that you did or bought or happened to you, and
- The other person has a better story or experience or a bigger object they bought, and
- They have to tell you about it when you are telling your story.
I am sure you can think of at least one person, who is always trying to prove that they have done better than you. You went out with a beautiful girl, he went out with a supermodel. You bought a new Toyota, and guess what she bought? The “ultimate driving machine,” of course (for those of you who skip ads, that’s a BMW). You drink a fresh squeezed orange juice, he drinks a smoothie made on his own Vitamix from 12 different fruits and vegetables (hey, gimme a break, my smoothie only contains 10, ok?).You may be excited that your kid finished at the top of her class, and their kid not only was at the top of his class but he is so handsome that he has gone out with the entire cheerleading squad. And even if you may not say it or show it, in your mind you are showing them your middle finger.
To my chagrin, I realized some time ago that I myself have been guilty of one-upmanship (yes, I know…it’s hard to believe). But that was in my less disciplined days, many many….many moons ago (although my current self-proclaimed discipline is up for debate). I remember when I met a medical resident and he would tell me what a tough day he had because he was up all night admitting patients while he was on call. I would relish in reminding him that back when “men were men” we would be on call for 36 hrs straight, not just the measly 24 hrs these days, taking call every 3rd night and would still have to present our cases to attendings who would grill us to the nth degree and expect us to know all the details of all the patients we admitted regardless of whether we had had a chance to experience anything close to the horizontal position in those 36 hrs. Well, this is an example of one-upmanship.
But one-upmanship is actually not just about positive things. It can also be about negative things, such as, if you are sick, then they have been sicker. If you are having a bad day, their day was much worse than yours. (Actually, this should not be called a one-upmanship, it should be one-downship or one-downer. But somehow that doesn’t sound as sexy). The bottom line is that these people will try to outdo your story, no matter what it is.
Well, I have news for them. No one likes a one-upper….or a one-downer. Think people become impressed when you one-up them? Think again. If you are a one-upper…STOP. You were wondering why you don’t have as many friends, weren’t you? Well, now you know. The more you try to impress people, the less impressed they get.
The next time someone tries to one-up you, agree with them. Tell them they are right. Their life is much better than yours. Or if they are a one-downer, agree with them that their life is much crappier than yours. In fact, their life couldn’t be crappier. Then excuse yourself and go find some better friends.
This is how one-uppers lose their friends one by one. They have lost their focus. A friend of mine recently gave me the perfect analogy. Just like a bug-repellant creates a barrier and keeps away flies, their one-upping actually builds barriers and keeps people from coming close to them.
I take this one step further. One-upping is not just in speech, but also in action. If you are trying to impress someone with how you dress, what car you drive, what purse you carry. Now, don’t get me wrong! There is nothing wrong with wearing nice clothes, having a nice house, driving a nice car and all the other things. It is about how you do it. It’s about how confident you are in who you are as a person. Do you look down upon people who have less than you? Are you trying to impress others?
Just stop for a moment and think about it. How do you treat people who may not be at your social level or status in life? Do you make friends with the janitor? With your employees? With your butler? When you are staying at a hotel, how do you treat the cleaning staff? If you suddenly lost it all, would that affect your self-esteem? Would you think you have failed in life?
It all comes down to self-esteem. When you are confident in who you are, you don’t need to try to impress people with your bigger and better stories, bigger and better houses and cars, nicer and fancier clothes. You treat everyone equally. You may have friends in high places, but you also have them in “low places.” This is what real success is about. In fact, real successful people don’t get offended by one-uppers, but use that experience as motivation to do and be better. Their success is actually even more visible because they don’t try to show it off.
There is one other aspect of one-upping. If someone is one-upping you, the reason they are trying to impress you is that they think you are some hot s#%t. They want to be like you, and want you to know, in their own perverse way, that they admire you. They think you are worthy of impressing. After all, have you ever seen any one-upper going up to a homeless guy, or the one standing at the intersection asking for food, saying, “Yeah, you don’t have food to eat? Well, let me tell you I haven’t had steak in such a long time, it’s not even funny.”
You become worthy of impressing by not trying to impress anyone. Real successful people are confident in who they are, without having to show it off. They are humble even at the peak of their success, because they truly have achieved wisdom. They exude a warmth and serenity around them that draws people in. They are not bothered by one-upmanship, and don’t get offended easily by one-uppers. They understand that success also brings its own set of responsibilities, because their success touches many people’s lives.
If you stay true to your focus, you will attract like-minded successful individuals, who will end up becoming your friends. But it will also attract others who lack these qualities and who are trying to become successful, but don’t really know how. They try to impress you with their one-upmanship. But if you look past their one-upmanship, you will see the real person behind the facade, with their insecurities and anxieties. You have the ability to touch them and transform them, because your openness, wisdom, simplicity and serenity allow them to express their insecurities to you.
The next time someone tries to one-up you, realize that they are doing so because they don’t have self-esteem. So be gentle with them. They just want you to like them. Instead of mentally showing them the middle finger, use that as motivation for your own personal improvement. They are seeing something in you that perhaps you yourself are not.
If YOU are a one-upper…….call me, let’s do some intervention before it is too late.
Until next time