Flattery has had a bad name since the Greeks. Over 2,000 years ago, Publilius Syrus, the Latin writer of mimes and dramatic sketches, warned, “Flattery was formerly a vice; it has now become the fashion.”
Flattery continues to be an obligatory weapon in all manner of political and personal influence. Richard Stengel’s A Brief History of Flattery (2000) lists over 200 synonyms for “to flatter” and “flattery.”
A trio of marketing professors conducted a set of experiments using a sunglasses kiosk. The sales clerks flattered customers either during the sale, after the sale, or not at all. Then, researchers asked the shoppers to evaluate the trustworthiness of the clerks.
Turns out that the customers could see through it. Flattery, whether it comes during or after the sale, reduced the customer’s perception of the clerk’s trustworthiness. Without conscious reflection, flattery made the customers distrust the salesclerks:
Our findings show that even when it was obvious the compliment didn’t serve any underlying sales motive, the participants didn’t trust what the sales agent had to say.
In a way, it’s sad that the marketplace has become so suspicious, but it seems that when someone flatters us, we get our back up even if it’s not called for. It’s the consumers’ default position to react negatively to what is perceived as an attempt to manipulate them.
Idea for Impact: Don’t try to sway anybody by unsavory flattery and ingratiation.
Flattery is an inducement that seems great initially but leaves a horrid aftertaste. People will eat up your flattery if they’re starving for affection, but undue adulation isn’t as appealing as honest, sincere appreciation.
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