Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2016

Mitigating Envy: Why Successful Individuals Should Reveal Their Failures

by Karen Huang, Alison Wood Brooks, Ryan W. Buell and Brian Hall

Abstract

People often experience envy when they compare themselves to successful peers. Envy, an aversive emotional experience and socially undesirable emotional expression, leads to negative interpersonal behaviors such as social undermining, derogation, and withholding help. In this paper, we identify an effective yet counterintuitive interpersonal strategy for mitigating envy: revealing failures that the envied individual has experienced along the way to success. We find that people’s failures are often less transparent and therefore less known by others than are their successes. However, across three experimental studies, we show that learning about the failures that successful others have experienced mitigates envy and increases perceptions of perseverance. At the same time, revealing failures does not decrease admiration or evaluations of the achiever’s accomplishments. Our findings point to the positive consequences of revealing failures both for the envied and the envious.

Keywords: envy; transparency; effor; perseverance; social perception;

Citation:

Huang, Karen, Alison Wood Brooks, Ryan W. Buell, and Brian Hall. "Mitigating Envy: Why Successful Individuals Should Reveal Their Failures." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-089, February 2016. (Please contact the authors to request copy of this paper.)