In the last post, we saw that flattery works, even when it is patently obvious to the receiver that you have an ulterior motive for saying nice things about them. That said, I admit that there are three things wrong with following my advice to be a suck-up. First, you may feel a bit slimy doing it, even when you know it’s the smart thing to do. Second, your peers or any outside observers may think less of you. Finally, while the research shows that there’s a low risk of having it backfire on you, there are more skillful and less awkward ways of ingratiating yourself. As Mark Twain said,
The happy phrasing of a compliment is one of the rarest of human gifts, and the happy delivery of it another.
In case you don’t have the “gift”, here are some suggested techniques to improve your complimenting skills:
Probably the most important rule of all is to keep it real by complimenting them for something that you genuinely admire. When you believe it, you are much more likely to say it authentically, and the recipient is much more likely to accept it gladly without question.
Find something different to compliment them on. If it’s something less obvious than what they hear all the time from others, it’s more likely to get their attention, and it also signals that you cared enough to research them carefully before meeting them.
Be specific in your praise. I confess that once or twice, when I’ve had someone compliment me about one of my books, I’ve asked them what they specifically liked about it, and it became obvious that they had not read it.
Of course, these first three suggestions require If it’s someone you’re meeting for the first time, research them as much as you can—the deeper the better. It shows you care, and it’s so easy nowadays that not doing it can be seen as insulting.
Ask them for advice. Everyone loves to be considered important and/or knowledgeable, and asking them for advice is an indirect way of expressing your admiration while potentially getting something valuable in return.
Go behind their backs. In other words, don’t praise them directly. If you praise them to others, you can be sure it will get back to them and seem even more heartfelt for being said to someone else.
Separate the praise from the need. Praise followed by an immediate request is too transparent, so invest into the bank of goodwill early with your compliments before you need anything.
Soft-pedal your praise. Just like a backhanded compliment can offend, you can a faux insult can please: “Wow, that’s actually not such a dumb idea!” Be careful with this one, but it works really well with some personalities, especially people who are a little uncomfortable with suck-ups.
Listen to the other person. I believe that the sincerest form of flattery is not imitation but actually listening—paying the other person the compliment of believing that what they have to say matters.
Finally, adjust your attitude toward complimenting others. If you consider flattery beneath you, ask yourself how making another other person feel important can be a bad thing.