Study Shows That Sucking Up Really Does Work at Work

bossResearch by Ithai Stern at the Kellogg Business School confirms that flattery or sucking up is effective in professional life. Not only that, but there's an art to it.

What Stern and his co-author James Westphal of the University of Michigan found was that there are seven fundamentals in the art of sweet talk. Those who perfect these tactics wind up in the boardrooms of the Fortune 500. Surely, if you just get a little good at them, you can at least land a decent job or attract some new clients or customers.

Here are the seven door openers:

  1. Serve up flattery in the form of advice, as in "If you could just let me know a little about how you were able to get promoted again and again and so quickly in this company?"
  2. Play hard to get. Start off the relationship with taking on the opinion or point of view of the other person. Then become a disciple.
  3. Embed the compliment in the superior's network rather than delivering the flattery in person. You know it will be carried back to the other person.
  4. Pretend you recognize that sweet talk might make the superior feel uncomfortable. Therefore, you frame your gush as: "I know how embarrassed this might make you but I have to tell you how brilliant your report was. Everyone is talking about it."
  5. Sign on with the superior's value system before you praise the superior's opinions. That lays the ground work for the relationship built on praise.
  6. Preach the gospel of the manager's values wherever. That prevents any doubt that you might be a mere suck up.
  7. Reinforce the connection by mentioning groups in which you both are members. Examples would be a conservative-values organization or a religious group. Some sweet talkers even leverage their joint memberships in 12-step programs.
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