Flattery Will Get You Further Than You Thought

We know that the sound of our own name falls easily on our ears.  We also know that receiving a sincere compliment brings a quick smile to our face.  Apparently, all of us are physiologically hard-wired to enjoy both of these occurrences.

Of course, in our work with donors, we understand the power of being sincere, authentic, and personal in all we do.  We don’t send direct mail solicitations to “Dear Friend.”  We send them to “Dear Sally.”  We compliment the taste in artwork on the walls of our donors’ homes.   These are not contrived actions.  They are sincere, and they are part of our DNA.  Deep down, we understand the positive power of engaging people in personal and flattering ways.

So, what about John, the sales guy who is trying to sell you storm windows and compliments you on, say, your shoes?  He is taught to compliment you because the research suggests that compliments make us feel good about ourselves and, in turn, we evaluate the flatterer more positively.  But John isn’t very smooth.  In fact, you may even think his approach is clumsy, inept, and probably very insincere.  He just wants to sell you storm windows.  So, one would think that the positive afterglow normally associated with sincere flattery would be lost because John has an ulterior motive and you know it.

But, guess what, a new study suggests we like the flattery – fake or not!

That’s right, Elaine Chan and Jaideep Sengupta at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology published in the Journal of Marketing Research a study suggesting that even though we know the flatterer is being insincere, we still will view him or her positively.  We may discount the truth of the compliment itself, but the good feelings that flow to the flatterer are still present even though we know we are being manipulated!

So, what does all this mean?  Well, I certainly wouldn’t suggest that offering up insincere flattery to donors or others is a wise move.  However, this study does confirm and remind us of the impressive power of well-placed compliments.  Offering up compliments whenever appropriate really will make a difference in how others view and respond to you – no matter if you mean it or not!

Bonus:   Here’s a newly-released book, “The Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results,” which also details how we can become more effective persuaders.  Research-based and a good read.

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