The power of flattery

I come bearing a gift.  “A bit late”, I hear you say. “Christmas was weeks ago.” Better late than never?

Overdone?  No such thing.

Overdone? No such thing.

It’s the finding from research carried out by University of California–Berkeley professor Jennifer Chatman into flattery.  She wanted to know whether there was a point at which flattery becomes ineffective through being overdone.

It turned out that there is no such point.  Apparently you can keep the flattery coming ad infinitum:  it will always work for you if you want to succeed in life, particularly in the business context.

Chatman told Reuters: “People who bring positive information, that stroke the boss, that make the boss feel good about the decisions he or she has made, that build up the boss’ confidence, those people are going to do better.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer

This is but one of the themes developed by Jeffrey Pfeffer‘s book Power.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s next on my list.  I’m grateful to Eric Barker for summarising it in his Barking up the Wrong Tree Blog.  What do you think of this?

“Your relationship with your boss is far more important than your actual performance:

The lesson from cases of people both keeping and losing their jobs is that as long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you… 

How do you keep the boss happy? Ask what they want and do it:

It is much more effective for you to ask those in power, on a regular basis, what aspects of the job they think are the most crucial and how they see what you ought to be doing.”

This provides two themes for those wishing to climb the corporate ladder faster:  

Develop that flattery muscle, and ask your boss more often what they think you should be focussing on.  The second of these strikes me as such a statement of the bleeding obvious that I hardly dare write it, but I come across way too many corporate grafters who don’t get (or make) the air time with their boss to even ask such a question.

Personally I never was a great flatterer, which is probably why I got made redundant in my mid 30’s (thank goodness, otherwise I would still be trying to flog dead horses in the rump of the pub retail business).  I used to think the reason I wasn’t progressing as fast as some of my graduate entrant colleagues was because I lacked political nouse.  Maybe, I now realise, it was because I hadn’t the willingness to flatter that others did.

Once again, I can feel a training course coming on:  “Flattery for Dummies.”  “Fluffproof Flattery.”  “Recharge your Flattery battery.”

The course would focus on how to flatter without being detected, how to make it seem authentic, and some of the phrases which really trigger that emotional switch which delivers the result you want.

“Hey boss, saw that email last night with the week’s figures.  Nice one.  How one earth did you manage to massage those numbers so massively without anyone noticing?  (Stop?) Makes me proud to work for you.  (STOP NOW).  I’m so glad I decided to switch over to this team (LEAVE THE ROOM IMMEDIATELY), I’m never going to forget this experience (CALL SECURITY).

How can you flatter your boss more?  What phrases work for you, that you could use more often?

Happy 2013, if it’s not too late to say so.

© Denis Pepin –

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
This entry was posted in How to influence, Management Skills and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The power of flattery

  1. Pingback: How Do You Gain Power? | Nate Gibson

  2. Roy O'Neil says:

    Michael, what can I say? Another insightful, meaningful, useful, extremely readable blog; from someone who I respect based on their great achievements in their career and the talented people they have met and worked with!


  3. Pingback: The power of flattery | People Discovery

  4. Laughing at prior comment. Michael, your post reminds me of the Mark Twain quote: I can live for two months on a good compliment.


  5. Spencer says:

    Mike, this is the best blog I have ever read and you are a genius


What do you think? Please leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s