How Effective is Flattery?

by | Oct 24, 2017


Jennifer Chatman, a professor of organizational management at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted experiments in which she tried to find a point at which flattery became ineffective. It turned out there wasn’t one. Dr. Chatman found that, in general, flattery is lapped up without satiety. Bosses, in particular often love flattery the best as they often view it as a sign they’ve successfully influenced their people.  Of course, while flattery of superiors in the workplace may be good for your career path, it may lead to being asked to lunch less by your co-workers (as the research also showed that co-workers tended to like suck-ups less).

Lucy Kellaway, a columnist for the Financial Times, was skeptical of Dr. Chatman’s findings so she ran her own experiment. Here’s Ms. Kellaway’s report:

“I’d always thought shameless crawling was not merely undignified but ineffective, too. So last week I decided to put this theory to the test. I picked on six colleagues, each of whom had recently written something that I admired, and plied them with praise in increasing quantity.

I waylaid my subject, and started: ‘I much enjoyed your piece on xx,’and then proceeded to phase two: ‘I mean it was incredibly clever/original/funny/fascinating,’ and from there to: ‘In fact it was by far the best thing that I’ve read in the newspaper – or anywhere – ever.’  I finished off with: ‘I just don’t know how you do it. You are a total genius.’

In each case the smile got wider as the dose increased, and by phase four there was a flush of pleasure across the face. In three of the cases the subject told me in return that I was also a genius, an observation that I found myself inexplicably willing to take at face value.

I can, therefore, confirm that the theory is resoundingly, astoundingly true. If it works with cynical journalists, whose job it is to spot false notes, it will work with anyone.”

Oh, btw, you must be smart, curious, and erudite to have clicked on and read this post. 


  1. Smiling large after reading the final line!

  2. John,
    I’m glad you had the foresight and intelligence to send this to us, but don’t expect any flattering statements from me.

  3. kill them with kindness – although I have found it doesn’t always make them a nicer person

  4. John,

    If you get any smarter they are going to have to raise the bar.

    Flattery? Always a judgement call.


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