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The Art of Flattery

Research suggests that flattery will get you everywhere. I’m sure you knew that already — you are, after all, the smartest readers on the planet.

Psychologists have long known that the more likeable you are the more likely you are to influence others.

A study published recently in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology found that just under half of people who were asked to help out a colleague with a favour were willing to do so. However, if the colleague first gave the person a compliment before making the request, 79 per cent of people were willing to help. Interestingly the increase in help occurred regardless of how likeable the requester was. It was the requester demonstrating their liking for another by complimenting them that increased their persuasiveness.

Numerous other studies have consistently shown how effective it can be to tell others that you like them and to give genuine compliments. Waiters receive bigger tips after praising diners for their menu choice. Hair stylists get higher tips after telling clients how much they like their new hairdo. Moreover, the effects of compliments hold true even when people know that the flatterer has an ulterior motive. But the lesson is not to use false compliments as a universal, and rather blunt, instrument of persuasion. Instead it is to selectively look for genuinely likeable features in someone and tell them.

Perhaps the most underused place where compliments can be employed effectively is with the people we are least likely to compliment at all — those we dislike and find difficulty dealing with. Again the suggestion is not to lavish fake or bogus praise but instead to look for genuinely admirable features about such individuals — their strong work ethic, attention to detail or reliability. Doing so might mean the difference between successfully getting business done or not.