WHILE SELF-ESTEEM is an individual goal for achieving equanimity, the esteem of others, if publicly expressed even as a Viber post, can be a boost to the fragile ego. In a culture that places a high value on the admiration of others, flattery can get you places. The “esteem engine” is always heading somewhere.
It is important to flatter effectively and not be perceived as a mere toady whose favorable opinions are devalued due to their generous application even for the unworthy.
It is best to heap praises on a person for accomplishments he himself considers important. It doesn’t have to be the Nobel Prize for Peace (unless it concerns someone who got it). It could be pedestrian skills being publicly acknowledged, like ballroom dancing, karaoke singing, or a good clothes sense. A heretofore unknown accomplishment that has been unearthed from obscurity is best. (Did you know that Mr. X has been shortlisted for knighthood by the Knights of Columbus?)
Research is critical. The worst sin here is to be out of touch with a person’s present status. Flattering a subject who has just been ousted from a job you are slobbering over is the worst case of inadequate research. The subject is likely to take the attempted flattery as sarcasm.
Flattery is seldom considered too excessive or embarrassing by the recipient of the hosannas. Still, when introducing a guest speaker, complements must be moderated. Otherwise, as soon as the speaker opens his mouth, the audience is likely to be let down — Really? Is this then the famous business mogul whose turns of phrase can put Demosthenes to shame?
Effective flattery is done with an audience. What use is adulation if only the object of praise is there to hear it? Complimenting a person on a one-on-one basis is called seduction. This form of flattery can be effective for certain short-term goals. Although overdoing it can subject one to derision — I’ve heard that one before, Sir. Careful with your soup. It’s dripping on your shirt.
Does flattery automatically predispose a favor-giver to think well of the praise releaser? Again, the rule on prior research must be invoked. Misplaced flattery can be as deadly as an insult, as in remarking to an already resigned (or fired) cabinet secretary how effective his policies were, for the first few days. (Did you manage to save some?)
If one cannot give compliments because he is simply not up to date with what another has recently achieved, it is best to let the conversation provide the opening — did you read about my recent award? The conversation can be stilted when one is not too familiar with the other. Sometimes, the only opening available is the door to the exit. (I need to catch a cab.)
Run-of-the-mill compliments must be avoided. The usual greeting of “you look thinner” (I’m undergoing dialysis) can be embarrassing. It’s best to just stick to small talk about traffic and inflation, and the progress of the Ukrainian resistance.
Should you flatter everyone you meet? The accomplished flatterer selects his target, reserving his charms only for those powerful enough to advance his agenda. For the rest, he shows only indifference which is as exquisite a social skill as flattery and extends to who should be avoided altogether.
Special tributes to exiting executives, birthday celebrants, and the recent deceased have become part of our culture. These milestone events are complete with hosts and a program of speeches whose single theme is to flatter the honoree. They now include video greetings which are edited with appropriate music for maximum impact.
While “roasting,” or goodhearted teasing, heaped as a form of manly affection has been tried, it can have unexpected results. (There have been countless accomplishments attributed to our honoree, but unfortunately claimed only by himself and lacking any independent validation. He is truly a legend only in his own mind.) Can this be the start of a life-long feud?
There is a way of differentiating between mere flattery and true admiration. The former is intended to secure a favor or a privilege. The latter is a sincere expression of genuine regard, especially given to one who can no longer dispense favors.
Still, no amount of flattery when introducing a guest speaker can work… if you get her name wrong.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda