Funny Business with Jane Wells

How to Kiss Up to the Boss


Everyone wants to be noticed. Everyone likes a compliment. Even the boss.

Pete Campbell from "Mad Men".
Source: AMC

There is, however, a fine line between being complimentary and turning into Pete Campbell from "Mad Men". Early in the series, Campbell was a complete brown noser with uber-male Don Draper. It didn't play well. 

Sadly, the rest of us have seen too many instances where outrageous kissing up has paid off for underperforming employees. "That shirt brings out the color of your eyes," or, "That's a brilliant idea," or "I was just thinking the same thing!" makes me nauseous. Especially when I'm the one who said it.

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern has determined what kind of flattery works, and what doesn't. First, the AP reports the study shows that fawning has paid off, especially for "historically underrepresented groups such as minorities and women." Second, if you want fawning to work, don't be too obvious about it. The story provides the following suggestions from Kellogg's Ithai Stern:

1) Be indirect in expressing your admiration. "One manager interviewed in the study suggested couching a compliment in a question by asking, 'How were you able to pull off that strategy so successfully?'" Yes, that'll fool him. Or her.

2) Let your manager know you share similar values, politics, or religious views. I suggest you tell the truth, because the truth will eventually come out.

3) Don't compliment the boss to his or her face. Instead spread compliments to others and hope word leaks back. Risk factor: Word may never leak back, or one of your colleagues may steal your compliment and use it directly on the boss.

4) Make it sound like you're forced to compliment the boss because he or she is just too modest to take any credit. The study suggests prefacing a compliment with, "You're going to hate me for saying this, but..." and, "I don't want to embarrass you, but..."

On the other hand, if none of this works and, in fact, backfires, you may desire a quick exit. Maybe even a "quit" exit. Here's one way out.

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