Flattery Can Get You (and Everyone Else) Everywhere
They say flattery will get you everywhere. But this is important to keep in mind when you’re on the receiving end. Studies suggest that even being aware that someone has unkind motives in flattering you may not be enough to offset its effectiveness.
Flattery is praise deliberately and insincerely offered in order to influence someone for selfish purposes. Terms like brown-nosing and buttering up come up in this context. The opposing view, though, is that flattery can sometimes confer well-deserved praise on the recipient, even while serving one’s own ends.
The difference between flattery and a compliment seems to be a matter of motives. A compliment represents a genuine acknowledgement of another person, such as a coworker appreciating your technical savvy. Flattery, by contrast, is driven by the desire to gain some advantage. It’s not really that your coworker is impressed with your technical savvy; he’s hoping to soften you up to get you to take on a project task he’s trying to get out of.
Word choice can make a difference in how effective flattery is. For example, charitable organizations have found that all sorts of psychology goes into crafting a message that will lead potential donors to reach for their wallets. For one thing, appeals that focus on the potential donor seem to be more effective than those that focus on the merits of the organization requesting the donation.
But sometimes, flattery can be self-serving and still be sincere. That was the case when I received a voicemail message from a charitable organization I had donated to. The caller identified himself and the charity he represented. Another solicitation, I thought, and almost deleted the message without listening further. But he quickly said that this was not a request for a donation, but rather a personal thank-you for my recent donation. He described the many ways that donations are used to help the charity’s recipients. Then he said that he was one such recipient and he was so grateful for donations such as mine. In closing, he repeated that he simply want to thank me for my donation.
Is this flattery? Absolutely. But while the motive was obviously to keep me donating, it was the most personal, heartfelt, sincere thank-you I’ve ever received from such an organization—and it will keep the organization high on my donation list. Maybe this is something to keep in mind if we choose to flatter others.