By Steven G. Mehta

Dale Carnegie once said “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”  This statement is probably very telling about human nature in several ways.  One way it reflects on people’s wishes and desires is that people like to hear good things about themselves.  Think back towards compliments that have been given to you.  How did you feel?  Now what about with criticisms?  No matter the compliment, people appreciate the compliment being given.

There has been substantial research on the issue of compliments and flattery.  Previously, research suggested that even false compliments have a good effect on people receiving the compliment.

Well new research reaffirms that principle by proving that flattery – even insincere – works.  Researchers ELAINE CHAN AND JAIDEEP SENGUPTA evaluated the effect of insincere flattery on the recipient.  But what happens when the recipient of the flattery realizes the ulterior motive of a person?  Chan’s research discussed the fact that when prospective consumers are fully aware of a clear ulterior motive underlying the compliment, recipients will discount the flattering comments and correct their otherwise favorable reactions.

Interesting though are the additional discoveries made by Chan in this field.  First, Chan discovered that even when targets correct for insincere flattery, that flattery may still continue to exert subtle, insidious effects on the recipients.  In other words, even though the person receiving the compliment realizes that the compliment may be insincere, there still remains a positive effect on the recipient.  The research also shows that the positive influence of flattery on the recipient disappears when the recipient’s self-esteem is bolstered before being flattered.  This supports the premise that the compliment’s positive reaction is due to a basic need for self-enhancement.

Here’s what the researchers say is the effect of this research in the real world:

In addition to their theoretical value, these findings possess practical applicability. From the marketer’s perspective, the results suggest that insincere flattery can exercise a persuasive influence on consumers’ automatic reactions even when they correct for the underlying ulterior motive in their deliberative judgments. In addition, this implicit reaction may actually be more influential in some ways than the corrected judgment—both with regard to delayed effects and in terms of withstanding an attack—thus offering further room for optimism to marketing agents interested in using flattery as a persuasion device (while simultaneously being a cause for concern from the consumers’ viewpoint). The former result carries particular significance given that marketers are often concerned with the long-term effects of any persuasion tactic. Finally, the boundary condition identified for the discrepancy between flattery-induced implicit and explicit attitudes offers insights into how the insidious influence of this persuasion tactic might be diminished. In particular, prior self-enhancement can greatly reduce the impact of flattery. Viewed in this light, the results offer useful implications both for those interested in combating the effects of flattery and for those interested in using it as an ingratiation tactic.

In negotiations and mediation, I have always advocated the use of compliments as a valuable part of the negotiating process.  It is important to note, however, that I always believe that a compliment should be sincere.  I do not believe in insincere compliments.  But there is no doubting the power of the compliment in negotiations – even if they are insincere.

Compliments and flattery allow you to create a good first impression and to be liked.  As discussed previously and as indicated in my book 112 Ways to Succeed In Any Negotiation or Mediation, once other negotiators like you, they are more likely to help you with your situation and are more willing to accede to your requests.

As many a husband will attest to when asked by their wife regarding issues of weight, compliments about those issues will always serve you well compared to accurate and neutral phrases.

Compliments also serve the purpose of showing that you like the other person.  They also show that you and the other person share the same taste in the item being complimented.  As such, it allows people to develop similarities.

To see a classic compliment, have a look at the scene from the Oscar Winning Movie, “As Good As It Gets.”

The reality is that there is always something that we can make a compliment about.  There is no harm in doing so and when done genuinely it can not only help the other person feel good in the negotiation, enhance your relationship, and could possibly open doors in the negotiations.

To read the research on this, click here.

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