Anyone who ever listened to Garrison Keillor’s recurring “News from Lake Wobegon” monologue on the radio show A Prairie Home Companion knows the familiar refrain that described his fictional Minnesota hometown: “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
And they’re all humble too! Well, not exactly.
What Keillor captured in the fictional characters of Lake Wobegon was the natural, and very real, human tendency to overestimate our own capabilities, achievements, and positive attributes. He portrayed this phenomenon so well, in fact, that a professor of psychology at Hope College coined it “the Lake Wobegon effect.” Our tendency to consider ourselves better than the average person is also known as the “self-enhancement effect.”
It is particularly interesting to explore this effect as it relates to our perception of our own humility. We asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “You are a very humble person.” At first, that statement might give you pause: Would truly humble people be comfortable describing themselves as “very humble”?
The short answer is yes. The fact that 78% of our readers agreed with the statement – with certain personality types agreeing at rates approaching 100% – doesn’t seem nearly as surprising (or ironic) in light of the Lake Wobegon effect.
The results of our survey can actually tell us a lot about how genuine modesty may be determined by personality type. Self-inflation aside, our readers proved to be reasonably self-aware when it came to understanding their own humility, and the results indicated that how humble we are hinges mainly on one aspect of our personality: our Nature.
Let’s dive into the data below.
Diplomats (84% agreeing)
Being humble means not being proud or arrogant, and not thinking you’re better than other people. Rather than focusing on yourself – on your own accomplishments or your own self-interest – you put other people’s needs and feelings first. And that’s just what personality types with the Feeling trait do. Readers who fell on the Feeling end of the Nature scale (85% agreeing) were 21% more likely than Thinking types (64%) to agree that they are very humble.
Diplomats, who all share the Feeling trait, agreed the most. Far more interested in empathy and harmony than in superiority and competition, Diplomat personalities recognize that showing humility in their social interactions will contribute to positive group dynamics and set others at ease.
Of course, humility is not just a sound strategy for communication and diplomacy – for many people, it is also a personal virtue to which they consciously aspire. This is perhaps most true of Advocates, who, as their name suggests, devote themselves to helping others and serving a greater good. Assertive Advocates were the personality type that agreed with our statement at the highest rate: 94%.
It’s natural that most Advocates, as idealistic and perceptive personality types, would not only frown on vanity and boastfulness but also have the self-awareness to recognize and avoid those traits in themselves. Mother Teresa is the perfect example of a humble Advocate, as she both embodied humility and urged others to do the same. As she once wrote, “Very humble work, that is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”
Sentinels’ and Explorers’ responses were significantly divided around the Nature aspect, with Feeling types agreeing at much higher rates. But on average, Sentinels were slightly more likely than Explorers to agree that they are very humble because of their Judging trait, which motivates these personalities to put their duties and obligations first; focused on their personal responsibilities, they often have little time for bragging about their accomplishments.
Assertive Defenders (91%) were almost as likely as Advocates to agree with our statement. But for this personality type in particular, humility, when taken too far, can become a weakness. Often shy, self-effacing, and hesitant to take credit for their achievements, even when it is due, Defenders are always at risk of being taken advantage of by other, more ambitious types, and of missing out on well-deserved opportunities. For them, a little boasting may be a good thing.
Interestingly, the least likely personality type of all to agree was also a Sentinel: Turbulent Executives agreed at a rate of just 57%. An important aspect of humility is understanding that you don’t know everything and being willing to learn and grow. Executives, however, because they are so grounded in traditions and values, are very confident in their own concept of right and wrong, in their own knowledge, and in their own way of doing things, to the point that they can exclude all other ideas.
Frank Sinatra was an Executive personality type, and the lyrics to his famous song “My Way” illustrate this tendency well. It’s difficult for Executives to feel empathy and express their emotions, which can make them judgmental of others. Executives are often model citizens (not too unlike the “above-average” fictional residents of Lake Wobegon), and they take a lot of pride in their status within the communities to which they belong. Pride, of course, is the opposite of humility, and Executives must guard against becoming too proud and self-righteous.
Explorers showed a lower rate of agreement because of their Prospecting trait. Always seeking out the best, most exciting opportunities, Explorer personality types tend to make personal satisfaction their first priority. That’s not to say that they don’t help others, just that they won’t necessarily put others’ needs first all of the time. Explorers like to live in the moment and generally don’t put much stock into behaving in the traditional ways expected of them, so if a situation seems to call for a little bragging, they’ll run with it.
As with Sentinels, the more emotionally sensitive Explorers – Adventurers (85%) and Entertainers (81%) – agreed at much higher rates than those with the Thinking personality trait – Virtuosos (62%) and Entrepreneurs (60%).
“Humility” probably isn’t a word that you would instantly associate with Analysts, and indeed, Analysts were the least likely to regard themselves as very humble people. With their shared Thinking trait, Analyst personality types value their own intellect a great deal, much more than they do other people’s emotional sensitivities, and they tend to be dismissive of those who can’t keep pace with their ideas. Analysts (especially Extraverted ones) must be careful, because if they don’t rein in their ego and apply their intellect to a worthy cause, they’re liable to be seen as blowhards.
Turbulent Debaters (58%) were just behind Turbulent Executives in acknowledging that they tend not to be very humble. Unlike Executives, Debater personalities don’t believe that they have all the answers – that’s why they love engaging in debate in the first place, to learn new things and find new answers.
The trouble is that Debaters do tend to believe that they are the ones most capable of figuring those answers out. People with this personality type make no effort to hide their conviction that they’re the smartest person in the room, and if you think otherwise, they’ll demand that you prove it to them. Debaters like to surround themselves with people who can match them intellectually, but their outspoken self-confidence can easily verge into arrogance.
Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement (82% and 81% agreeing)
Compared to the Roles, we saw little variation among the four Strategies. Although there was virtually no difference between Assertive personality types (79%) and Turbulent types (78%), Introverts (81%) were slightly more likely than Extraverts (76%) to agree that they are very humble. Thus, we saw the two Introverted Strategies, Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement, at the top of the results.
For some personality types, confidence can be a slippery slope to conceitedness; these types may not realize that truly humble people are actually very confident too – they just use that confidence quietly, to help others, rather than to assert their own importance. Confident Individualists are often quite humble because they are highly confident in their own abilities, but as Introverts, they feel little need to brag about them.
Constant Improvers are also averse to the social spotlight, but they tend to have lower self-esteem and a strong inner critic. Although that can often be a weakness, when it comes to humility, it’s a strength. Constant Improvers are genuinely interested in asking questions, receiving feedback, learning new things, and working to improve themselves – and that makes them humble.
People Mastery and Social Engagement (78% and 75%)
The Extraverted personality types who belong to the People Mastery and Social Engagement Strategies love to immerse themselves in social experiences. Wrapping themselves in the energy and excitement of the moment, Extraverts can sometimes go too far, and their slightly lower responses indicate that they’re aware of this tendency. People Masters are confident and unafraid to speak their mind, and since they have a certain disregard for what other people think of them, they don’t worry too much if they sometimes come across as arrogant.
Social Engagers, like Constant Improvers, tend to be insecure, and they’re especially concerned with the opinions of others. So while these personality types may put energy into improving themselves and trying to be humble, they can easily fall into a trap of boasting about their accomplishments or showing off their abilities, in the hopes of getting the positive feedback that they crave.
For many personality types, particularly Feeling types like Advocates and Defenders, humility is a way of life. It enables them to do good in the world, and to constantly grow and evolve for the better.
Thinking types like Executives and Debaters, on the other hand, can often get too caught up in what they see as the superiority of their own abilities or ideas, putting their own interests ahead of others’, whether intentionally or not. These personality types may even misinterpret humility as a sign of meekness and passivity, assuming that modest people have little self-confidence or self-respect. But as we’ve seen, that couldn’t be further from the truth. And while even the most modest and gracious among us can occasionally be guilty of too much pride, humility is certainly a worthy virtue, and we could all benefit from trying to be a bit more humble.
Do you see yourself as a humble person? Maybe you think humility is overrated, or is best in moderation? Go ahead and share your thoughts below!