Yes, kissing ass can help you get ahead. But studies have also shown that when it’s obvious it can backfire.
Ithai Stern and James Westphal did a study revealing the seven techniques for ingratiation and influence that are most effective in moving up the corporate ladder without looking like a kiss-ass:
- Frame flattery as likely to make the boss uncomfortable. …one manager whom we interviewed noted that he commonly prefaces flattering remarks with such phrases as “I don’t want to embarrass you but. . . ,” or “I know you won’t want me to say this but. . . ,” or “You’re going to hate me for saying this but…
- Frame flattery as advice seeking. “…As one manager whom we interviewed suggested, “. . . if I wanted someone else to know that I admire him, rather than saying ‘I really admire you,’ I would be more likely to ask him for advice: ‘How were you able to pull off that strategy so successfully?’ something like that . . . the basic question is, how can I replicate your success?” Such questions frame flattery as an attempt to learn from alter rather as an attempt to curry favor…”
- Argue prior to agreeing with the boss: “…A focal actor may reduce the likelihood that opinion conformity is interpreted as ingratiation by challenging an influence target’s opinion prior to agreeing with him or her. The focal actor’s expression of agreement is then more likely to be interpreted as a genuine affirmation of alter’s opinion rather than as an attempt to curry favor…”
- Find out the boss’s position without asking him, then mention it in front of him as your own: “…As one manager suggested, “. . . if you just keep agreeing with the boss it might seem like you’re sucking up . . . but if you find out the boss’ opinion on a policy from talking to his friend and then later in talking to the boss you raise the same opinion . . . it would come across as more sincere.”
- Complimenting the boss to the boss’s friend: “As one manager put it, “. . . complimenting someone to his face is kind of obvious brown-nosing, or at least suspect. If you regularly say nice things about him to his friend though, he [the influence target] will almost always find out about it eventually, and it will mean a lot more when he does.”
- Show the boss you have the same values: “…As one manager suggested, “I’ve found that a good way to begin a discussion is to make some reference to something that’s important to me personally and that I have reason to believe is important to the other person—sometimes it’s my religious conviction, sometimes it’s my commitment to environmental protection, sometimes it’s my family . . . [when asked why:] they’re more likely to trust whatever I say afterward.”
- Mention a group membership that the two of you have in common: “…As one manager put it, “If I’m trying to influence someone I might start the conversation by mentioning a group or organization that I know we both belong to . . . [when asked what sort of group:] might be a political party, a religious organization . . . [when asked why:] I think it helps build trust so you can be more convincing.” This tactic reduces the likelihood of cynical interpretations of subsequent flattery and opinion conformity by triggering in-group bias.
Source: “Stealthy Footsteps to the Boardroom: Executives’ Backgrounds, Sophisticated Interpersonal Influence Behavior, and Board Appointments” from Administrative Science Quarterly
Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.