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Nobody Does It Better:...

Nobody Does It Better: Dealing with People Who One-Up

There are few things more infuriating than trying to talk to someone who has to “one-up” everyone she talks to – someone who views each piece of small talk as a chance for supreme conversational dominance.

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Everyone knows someone who likes to one up others. Whether it’s a casual acquaintance or a close friend, she just can’t abandon any chance to prove how much smarter, better, wealthier, more fortunate, less fortunate, or sicker she is than anyone else. Whenever you tell a story, she has one to top it. When you have good news to share, she has fantastic news. Anything that happens to you in your life, she’s experienced something more amazing or more terrible.

“You’re going to Florida for a week? I’m spending the summer in the South Pacific.”

“You missed your morning bus? I got hit by a car and had to walk five miles to work in the rain.”

“You had the flu? I almost just died from an illness so rare that it hadn’t even been discovered yet, and they’re probably going to name it after me.”

The constant one-upping isn’t meant to make you feel like number two, though; it’s usually just a way for the one-upper to feel better about his or her own life. In her book When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal With Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You, Dr. Jan Yeager, PhD, writes, “The one-upper has low self-esteem; if he were self-confident, the need to always be ‘one-up’ would diminish or disappear.” A one-upper isn’t really trying to convince you that he’s the one who’s the best looking, smartest, fastest, or most interesting—he’s trying to convince himself.  

Even if you know that the offender is just insecure, dealing with one isn’t always easy. Do you call him out and risk causing a scene, or just nod politely and allow the obnoxiousness to continue? There are suave responses to common boasts that will help preserve the peace while putting the one-upper in his place.

The Supermommy

These competitive moms want nothing more than to brag about how their precious darling is cuter, smarter, and more precocious than yours is. If your child started reading at age four, theirs started at two. If your child gets accepted to college, theirs is going to Harvard.

The Supermommy isn’t really bragging about her kid; she’s actually insinuating that she’s a better parent. So remind her that being first, best, or biggest isn’t everything. “Oh, your son Ethan is skipping a grade? Aren’t you worried he won’t relate to his peers?” Or try saying, “It’s great that Emma is involved with so many activities, but it’s a shame that you don’t get to spend any time with her anymore.”

The Gourmand

Always in the know about what’s new and hot, this one-upper likes to prove that when it comes to food, wine, bars, or just about anything else, her taste is better than yours. When you suggest a favorite restaurant, she’ll counter with one that’s more “authentic.” When you mention that you like a particular band, she’ll scoff and say that it’s just a rip-off of some obscure group that she listens to.

The Gourmand wants validation, but when it comes to opinions, yours is just as valid as hers is, so focus the discussion on fairness, not expertise. If she constantly pooh-poohs your ideas, say, “I like the food at Rocco’s. You can choose next time” or, “Well, that’s the nice thing about music/art/food—everyone’s entitled to her own opinion.”

The Downer

This one-upper always has a tale of woe to put your minor troubles to shame. If you have the flu, she has cancer. If you had a bad day, her dog died this morning. To hear the one-upper tell it, her life is one long, desolate bout of wretchedness.

The Downer desperately wants positive attention. To avoid getting bogged down by her misery, when she chimes in on a conversation with some story of the worst-case scenario, say, “I’m really sorry to hear that” and then simply change the subject.  

The Workhorse

This troublesome coworker sees being busy as a sign of importance. “You think you’re swamped?” he says. “I’ll be here till midnight doing all the things I have to do.”

The Workhorse actually likes sounding busy; it makes him feel more important and more valuable. Try offering to help him. “I’m happy to handle one of those client meetings or do that presentation for you.” When confronted by the prospect of someone else’s taking credit—or by the idea that their coworkers think they can’t handle their workload—many workhorses will stay quiet.

The Braggart

This person has to have the best of everything and won’t settle for less. If you’ve just painted your apartment, the Braggart would love to tell you about the Eames chair she just bought. If you just went on a weekend getaway, it couldn’t possibly compare to her latest exotic travel adventure.

Braggarts try to build an identity around the money they have and the possessions they own. Statements like “That’s very nice for you, but it’s not in our budget right now” can tactfully remind a clueless Braggart that not everyone can afford such luxuries. For more stubborn specimens, try reminding them that things aren’t everything by saying, “We just don’t believe in spending $5,000 on a couch. After all, it’s just stuff.”

When dealing with casual-acquaintance one-uppers, it’s fine to deflect and change the subject, but what about when the one-upper is a close friend? An honest conversation about how her one-upping makes others feel is probably in order, and can help her get to the bottom of the issues that compel her to make everything a competition.

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now More.com) for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.

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