Flattering Your Boss Can Pay Off, Study Shows

From Reuters

In the world of work, flattery will get you everywhere, according to a recent study.

Employees who flatter their bosses tend to receive better evaluations and move more easily up the corporate ladder, whether they deserve to or not, said Gerald Ferris, management professor at Texas A&M; University.

“Based on what we have found, it looks to be the case that political skills are highly reinforced out there in the workplace. It is the politically astute that are more often promoted,” Ferris said.

His conclusions are based on surveys of employees and supervisors taken as part of his research into political behavior in the office.

“People tend to believe that flattery is just too transparent to be effective, but we have found that is not necessarily true. We have found a strong correlation between this type of behavior and good evaluations,” Ferris said.


The reasons that flattery works are many, Ferris said, but most apparently have to do either with the boss’s ego or insecurity or both.

Some supervisors enjoy having their egos attended to by complimentary employees, while others simply need the reinforcement of consent, he said.

“What we have found is that often bosses are new or unsure of themselves and need a lot of social reinforcement for their decisions. They might look at flattery as a sign that they are right,” Ferris said.

The reasons that employees flatter bosses vary, too, Ferris said. Ambition--the desire to move up the corporate ladder--is often behind the compliments, he said.

Also, many workers use flattery to obscure their laziness or incompetence.

“We did find a big gap between some of the people doing this manipulation and those that did not. Many of these people (flattering the boss) were not the high performers. They were doing it to cover up their shortcomings,” he said.

But if flatterers are not always top workers, they frequently are what social scientists call “high self-monitors,” Ferris said.

“Those are people who are highly attuned to and aware of their surroundings and know what to do to get a favorable response,” he said.

Flattery works best when the employee is saying something that he or she really means, Ferris said. “If you overdo it or if you are not sincere and the boss catches on, it can mean trouble,” he said. “You have to be subtle.”