(*Originally, posted as a blog article here, now also published as a video on Youtube)
I’ve always thought my readers are a very intelligent lot, far more intelligent than average. And most of them are exceptionally good looking too.
And you, I really have to say, are up there at the top.
Who’s a slimeball?
Flattery has long been known to be a great influencer. Everyone likes to think they are rational and make their decisions based on the facts and logic but throw in a few compliments and their judgement is all over the place.
No one is immune. In an article called “The Slime Effect”, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Roos Vonk showed that when we read flattering descriptions of other people we often believe the flatterer was a slimeball. However, the same flattery written about ourselves is perceived as honest and insightful!
And we like our flatterers, regardless of whether we think their opinion is true or not.
What is more, Chan and Sengupta (Journal of Marketing Research) found that the effect of the flattery continued even after people had corrected for it.
No limit to the power of flattery
It gets worse, I’m afraid.
Professor Chatman at UC Berkeley assumed there was a U-shape to the effect of flattery: effective up to a certain point but beyond that it would be too obvious and therefore counter-productive.
However, in her research, she could not find any such limit in the data!
Of course, you are more sophisticated than this
If subtle-as-a-brick is not really your style, there are more sophisticated ways to do it, equally effective though less obvious. Professors Stern (Kellogg) and Westphal (Michigan) found 7 indirect ways to flatter (quoting from the Kellogg website):
1. Framing flattery as advice seeking: Occurs when a person poses a question seeking advice in a way that actually flatters the subject (“How were you able to close that deal so successfully?”).
2. Arguing prior to conforming: Instead of agreeing immediately, a person will appear to change their mind before accepting his/her manager’s opinion (“At first, I didn’t see your point but it makes total sense now. You’ve convinced me.”).
3. Complimenting manager to his/her friends: Praising manager to his/her friends or social network with hopes that word gets back to manager.
4. Framing flattery as likely to make manager uncomfortable: Positioning a remark as likely to be embarrassing (“I don’t want to embarrass you but your presentation was really top-notch. Better than most I’ve seen.”).
5. Engaging in value conformity prior to flattery or opinion conformity: Expressing values or morals which are held by one’s manager (“I’m the same way. I believe we should increase the minimum wage.”).
6. Conforming to opinions expressed by one’s manager to a third party: Covertly learning of manager’s opinion(s) from his/her contacts, and then conforming with opinion(s) in conversations with manager.
7. Referencing social affiliations held in common with one’s manager prior to flattery or opinion conformity: Mentioning an affiliation, such as a religious organization or political party, shared by both individuals. (“I watched the Republican National Convention last night. The keynote presented some great points.”).
So there are two conclusions with regards to negotiations: firstly, it can be an incredibly powerful tool to bring your counterparty onside in any dealings. Of course, there is an ethical issue here regarding manipulation and the answer is to be authentic and honest with your praise.
But equally, you need to be alert to its effects on yourself, too. We are all susceptible.
By the way, I would like to thank you for reading this article. I don’t know whether I ever told you but I am always impressed by you, you are one of my very favourite readers. You really are a wonderful person and a shining example for the rest of humanity. The world would be a far better place if more people were like you.
See you next time!