The Line Between Sucking Up And Complimenting - There Isn't One


Photo: Flickr via jurvetson

Why do some people get ahead, while others get passed up for promotions? Stanford Business school’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of “Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t,” states the obvious: the best way to get ahead is to be good at your job.There are other career-moving tactics that aren’t so straightforward.  Everyone hates office suck-ups, but their method of getting ahead shouldn’t be brushed off.  Flattery gets people what they want, and research proves it.

Despite negative connotations, studies suggest no office compliment is too great. Jennifer Chatman of UC Berkeley set out to find a point at which flattery became ineffective, but she couldn’t find one.  This implies that there are no small acts of kindness. Rare compliments and full-fledged sucking up are equally effective; both have positive effects on superiors.

Financial Times’ Lucy Kellaway put this theory to a test:

“I picked on six colleagues, each of whom had recently written something that I admired, and plied them with praise in increasing quantity.

“I waylaid my subject, and started: “I much enjoyed your piece on ‘xx’,” and then proceeded to phase two: “I mean it was incredibly clever/original/funny/fascinating,” and from there to: “In fact it was by far the best thing that I’ve read in the newspaper – or anywhere – ever.” I finished off with: “I just don’t know how you do it. You are a total genius.””

As the compliments increased in intensity, her colleagues’ smiles grew wider.  Half even returned the compliment; Kellaway was shocked to find herself “inexplicably willing to take them at face value,” even though colleagues were just being polite.

“I can, therefore, confirm that the theory is resoundingly, astoundingly true. If it works with cynical journalists, whose job it is to spot false notes, it will work with anyone,” Kellaway writes.

Some experts take this finding one step further and condone office flirting.  While this version of flattery is risky, killing your colleagues with kindness is a strategic approach.

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