How To Stop Being Pretentious (If People Think You’re a Snob)

“Why do people think I’m pretentious? A few people have told me that I come off as superior. How do I know whether I’m a pretentious person and, if I am, what should I do about it?”

Pretentious people try to make a good impression on others by acting as though they are more special, important, skilled, or intelligent than they really are.

If other people have described you as pretentious, a “snob,” or “fake,” this guide is for you.

How to know if you are pretentious

So what is a pretentious person like? Here a few signs that someone is pretentious:

  • They believe that liking obscure hobbies or having eccentric interests makes them smart or special. There’s nothing wrong with having unusual tastes, but believing that they make you a better person is pretentious.
  • They use long words or jargon because they think it makes them look intelligent or cultured.
  • They love to show off what they know when talking to others, even if it isn’t relevant to the conversation.
  • They don’t bother getting to know other people on a deep or meaningful level. Instead, they look for admiration and attention.
  • They like to name drop. Pretentious people talk about the brands they buy, important people that they know, and anything or anyone else who could make them look cool by association. They may be obsessed with status symbols such as expensive clothes and cars.
  • They one-up people. Sometimes they do this by telling stories that make their life seem more exciting than it really is. For example, if their friend tells them about a trip they took to Paris, a pretentious person may interrupt and start talking about their month-long tour of China.
  • They believe they should be respected as an authority on a topic even if they don’t know much about it. When someone points out that they are wrong, a pretentious person often becomes angry. They are not interested in learning new things or reaching a compromise. They just want to prove that they are superior.

If you can relate to this list, there’s a chance that you may be pretentious.

Reasons for being pretentious

Insecurity: Psychologists have not done much research on pretentiousness. However, research shows that arrogant people tend to have low self-esteem.[1]

This means that acting superior to everyone else could be a way of covering up insecurities. If you are worried about what other people think of you, you might try to compensate by making yourself look special.

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Learned behavior: Children often pick up their family’s attitudes and behaviors.[2],[3] If you were taught that impressing other people is important, you might carry this attitude into adulthood.

Personality disorders: Pretentious, self-important behavior can be a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).[4] Most pretentious people don’t have a personality disorder, but if you’d like to learn more about NPD, check out the Mayo Clinic’s guide.

How to stop being pretentious

1. Use ordinary words in everyday conversations

Don’t use long words for the sake of impressing people. Research shows that using unnecessarily complicated language can make other people think you are less (not more) intelligent.[5]

Match your vocabulary to your audience. For example, it’s OK to use IT jargon with a friend who shares your love of computers, but not with someone who has no idea what you’re talking about.

Do not use foreign phrases or words without a good reason because others may think you are showing off.

2. Be curious rather than judgmental

Instead of criticizing someone because they like something you hate, get curious.

Pretentious people often think they know best, but most people don’t want to be lectured or “converted.” Making quick judgments, especially if you imply that someone is shallow or stupid for liking something, makes you seem pretentious.

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For example, let’s say someone asks if you’ve seen the latest series of a reality TV show. From their expression and voice, it’s clear they love the show. You don’t like reality TV, you think it’s dumb, and you aren’t interested in talking about it.

There’s nothing wrong with having your own opinion. But if you say, “No, I hate reality TV because it’s trashy,” the conversation will turn awkward, and you’ll look pretentious.

Instead, you could try asking questions. In the example above, you could say, “No, I haven’t seen it. What’s it about?” or “No, but I’ve heard of it. What do you like about it?”

Avoid judgmental language like “You should…,” “You always…,” or “It’s never…” If you make someone feel judged for their tastes and preferences, they probably won’t want to talk to you.

3. Learn how to have balanced conversations

In a balanced conversation, both people share things about themselves and listen to each other. Balanced conversations let you make an authentic connection that’s based on shared interests and mutual disclosure rather than trying to make a good impression.

Try the IFR (Inquire, Followup, Relate) method: Ask a sincere question, ask an extra follow-up question, and then share something relevant about yourself.

Read this article on how to keep a conversation going for tips and examples.

4. Learn to talk about trivial things

Many pretentious people think they are too intelligent or important to bother with small talk. But small talk serves an important purpose. It builds trust, creates rapport, and it’s a bridge to deeper conversations.

If you try to jump into deep topics straightaway, you risk coming across as eccentric and socially unskilled. Check out this guide for people who hate small talk.

5. Be humble

You don’t have to hide your achievements, but don’t imply that they make you better than anyone else.

For example, saying you graduated from an Ivy League college is fine if someone asks where you went to school. But telling everyone that you wouldn’t bother studying anywhere that wasn’t world-renowned makes you look pretentious and self-important.

Avoid false modesty. For example, if someone compliments you, don’t say, “Oh, that? That’s nothing, it was easy” or “Thanks, but I do that all the time, it was no big deal.”

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Give other people credit when appropriate. If you achieved something as part of a team, don’t pretend that you did everything yourself.

For example:

You: “…so yes, our latest design project was a success.”

They: “Wow, that’s amazing!”

You: “Thank you very much, we all put a lot of work into it.”

6. Try new things

Pretentious people often have narrow tastes and interests and shun new things. Remaining open to different experiences will make you less pretentious.

You could:

  • Take a class in something completely new
  • Take an online course about a subject you know nothing about
  • Watch a movie you’d never usually pick
  • Read a book that’s not your usual genre

If you pride yourself on only watching obscure films or reading high-brow literature, go outside your comfort zone and try some mainstream media.

7. Work on your self-confidence

If you are pretentious because you are insecure, work on accepting your flaws and improving your confidence.

When you become more comfortable with yourself, you’ll overcome your fear of being judged, and you won’t feel the need to impress others all the time.

Self-acceptance may make you less judgmental and superior. Truly self-confident people don’t need to look down on others. Looking down on someone means you are making a comparison. If you are really confident, there’s no need for you to compare yourself to anyone else.

Every time you judge someone harshly, ask yourself, “Are my own insecurities to blame here?” For example, if you look down on people with low salaries, perhaps you worry that you aren’t rich enough.

8. Acknowledge your limitations and keep learning

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If you don’t know the answer to a question, then say so. Never pretend that you are an expert if you’re not. Faking knowledge can quickly backfire, especially now that everyone can use the internet to fact-check what you say.

When you meet someone who is an expert on one of your hobbies or interests, see it as an opportunity to learn something new. Even if you have as much knowledge or experience as they do, they might have some interesting opinions to share.

9. Use humor

Pretentious people often take themselves and life in general very seriously. If they do make a joke, it’s often to insult someone else.

You’ll come off as friendlier and more relatable if you learn to use affiliative humor. Affiliative humor is about bringing people together by making jokes about everyday life. See this guide on how to be funny for tips.

When you tell a story, keep it short, relevant, and entertaining. Don’t tell stories to make yourself look good.

10. Don’t correct people all the time

Don’t call people out on unimportant mistakes. For example, don’t interrupt someone just to correct their grammar. It’s annoying and will make you come across as pretentious.

If you do need to correct someone, for example, if you’re at work and it’s important that the other person gets their facts right, do it politely.

For example:

  • “Sorry to jump in, but I don’t think those are the right figures. Could we double-check them against the original report?”
  • “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but if I remember correctly, her car was red, not yellow.”

Avoid phrases like:

  • “Actually, you should know…”
  • “You’re totally wrong. In fact…”
  • “Just a minute, are you seriously suggesting…”

Before correcting someone, ask yourself, “Are they objectively wrong here, or is this just a difference of opinion?” Remember that just because someone has a different view, it doesn’t mean they are incorrect.

11. Improve your empathy

Pretentious people are often self-centered. To help you see things from other peoples’ point of view, try developing your empathy.

A few tips:

  • Give the other person space to share their stories. Encourage them to talk about their experiences by asking open questions like, “How did you feel when…?” and “What happened next when you…?” Listen carefully and try to understand their point of view.
  • Do not offer someone advice unless they ask for it because you may come off as insensitive. Instead, validate their emotions. For example, if someone is talking about their divorce, it’s probably more helpful to say, “That sounds very painful,” rather than, “Do you want me to help you find a lawyer?”
  • Start meditating. Research shows that it can make you more empathetic.[6] To get started, try Tara Brach’s free audio meditations.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming the worst, think of alternative explanations for strange or rude behavior. For example, the person who barged past you on the sidewalk may be inconsiderate, but they might also be running to pick their child up from school.

12. Use your knowledge to help other people

If you are very knowledgeable about a particular topic, help others who want or need to learn about it. For example, if you are great at coding, you could help one of the many nonprofit groups that makes coding more accessible.

Helping others also gives you the chance to meet people of different backgrounds, which can expose you to new ways of seeing the world and make you more empathetic.

13. Keep up with popular culture

If you think you’re too intellectual or smart to bother with popular culture, you’ll come off as pretentious.

You don’t have to force yourself to watch shows or movies you dislike. Neither do you have to keep up with all the latest celebrity gossip.

However, keeping an eye on the latest releases, trends, and big stories about famous people can make it easier to strike up casual conversations. Skim the arts and entertainment sections of a news website a couple of times per week.

14. Use friendly body language

If you appear aloof or quiet, some people may think that you feel superior to them. This can make you come across as pretentious.

Make yourself look approachable by relaxing your facial muscles, smiling, and using open body language.

Read this article on how to be more approachable and look more friendly.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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