When does encouragement end and flattery begin? What is the good or bad of insincere flattery? Are sales techniques that involve the feelings of potential customers acceptable?
I had a client who handled his staff badly. It was a cross between bullying and derision. Deride is what we do when we despise someone. We all know that derision is the most damaging thing we can do to another human being without physically hurting them. When one member of a marriage derides / despises the other, the marriage is over. It’s the same with employee employer relations. That also leads to painful divorce.
My client was persuaded, initially rather sceptically, to indulge in what he described as “gushing the staff”. He is Australian so the term fitted his vocabulary. They appreciated it even though they knew it was a learnt behaviour. Quickly he began to be interested in the people he was “gushing”. This led to questions, engagement and a balanced, proper affection. His staff turnover stopped, his operation started to take off.
We all use flattery at some time. Mostly we get flattered when we have recently died. At that point expressing favourable aspects of the deceased is a civilised and decent thing to do. Honour someone who has made it through the journey of life. My No 1 son is a Minister in the United Reform Church and he was recently called upon to conduct the funeral of someone he knew nothing about. The Minister supposed to take the funeral didn’t turn up.
Instead of a eulogy, which he could hardly give having not known the deceased, Richard asked the congregation to tell their stories. From a sad occasion it became very lively and many people present joined in with niece anecdotes about Neil. A lovely way to flatter someone you don’t even know.
Dr. Elaine Chan and Dr. Jaideep Sengupta have been studying the effects of sincere and insincere flattery. Their results are interesting. Even with published – that is, impersonal -flattery people who realise that it couldn’t possibly apply to them begin to believe it after a while. Not that I suggest you indulge in heaps of excessive gushing. I know a few people who do this and they become very boring with their exaggerated affection.
So how should we use flattery? With a generous scoop, I say. It isn’t difficult to do that once your realise how fascinating are the people you meet, what an amazing thing a human being is and how much you personally enjoy a little cream with your strawberries. You don’t lie, of course, but truth is intention and where your intention is honourably to encourage for decent purposes you may have a little poet’s license. Those who never exaggerate, never amuse.
Does it sound as though I am encouraging a post-truth world? Do you think I am suggesting ‘alternative facts’? Not at all. I am encouraging you first to flatter yourself. You’ll do it better than anyone else and possibly even believe it. I also encourage you to flatter your family, friends, work colleagues and all the people you meet. The nice ones deserve it; the less nice need it even more.
Go on, flatter yourself. You deserve it.
More people are flattered into virtue than bullied out of vice – R.S. Surtees