Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Positive Word about Flattery

The below text is one I posted yesterday on Mahlou Musings, an excerpt from a book I wrote several years ago. I thought it might also be worth sharing on 100th Lamb.

Lewis Lapham (Lapham's Rules of Influence) advises the profuse use of flattery. He writes that "flattery is comparable to suntan lotion or ski wax. It cannot be too often or too recklessly applied."

My two handicapped children, Noelle and Doah, know this. As children and adults, unlike what one might expect, they have been quite popular, among others reasons, because they routinely use flattery.

For exmaple, Doah, when needing help, will often address a nearby woman, "Excuse me, pretty lady. You help me, please?" What woman does not like to be called pretty?

And who would not feel good about helping someone clearly disabled who shows appreciation through more flattery by saying, for example, "Thank you. You're a nice person. I like you."

Likewise, Noelle once got me out of a traffic ticket when I accidentally drove through a stop sign. A four-year-old at the time, she was clearly thrilled at the sight of the police officer who pulled me over. While I searched for the car registration, she gushed flattery at him, telling him how wonderful she thought policemen were, how kind, and how helpful. He told me to forget the registration, that he would give me only a warning because he did not want my daughter not to like policemen.

Although she became more sophisticated about how she words things, Noelle has continued to use flattery and to be treated with warmth by people with whom she interacts. For example, she had a series of negative experiences at what I shall call Hospital A in Washington and ultimately we transferred her to Georgetown University Hospital, where she had a series of positive experiences. Near the beginning of her treatment there, she had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, no beds were immediately available, so the staff spread out a blanket on the floor of her room. The clinic director, embarrassed by this situation, stayed with Noelle two hours until a bed was found. She apologized to Noelle several times.

Noelle's response was, "Hey, I'd rather be on the floor here than in the softest bed at Hospital A." Obviously, that piece of flattery made Noelle a favorite patient for the entire time she was at Georgetown University Hospital.

We all like to hear other people say good things about us. They, too, like to hear good things said about them. Flattery often works where other means of motivation fail.

My sister, Danielle, points out that when flattery is sincere, there are many ways to get the good intentions to multiply. She cites the example of her husband, Bill, who has often elicited support and astounding service by first complimenting the employee sincerely with supporting details and then going on to report the employee's exceptional service and performance to the employee's supervisor, attributing the employee's attitude and performance to the supervisor's skill in management.

"By the end of the conversation," she wrote to me, "the supervisor and supervisee are dancing around Bill to see that everything goes smoothly."

So, slather the flattery wherever it is deserved!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.


  1. Thanks for this reflection. It's so easy to assume that flattery is dishonest and therefore we should avoid it. But when it is deserved, there is nothing dishonest about it. And so often people need to feel appreciated.

    It reminds me of this 17-minute video: Validation.

    I have recently been thinking about "mirroring" lately, which I do a lot without meaning to. I wondered if I should try to make myself stop, because it seemed a little like trying to trick people into liking me. But after reading this, it occurred to me that it's a form of flattery and perfectly ok as long as it's not done deliberately dishonestly.

  2. Hi Anna, I saw this missed comment when I was organizing old posts -- wow, sorry I missed it because it is an interesting comment. Mirroring -- I guess you have been involved in some way with NLP? -- like flattery, can be both dishonest and controlling or a form of appreciation and solidarity. Intent. . . When one is on the receiving end, it probably is a bit difficult to determine. Thanks for the reference to the video.