Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to Make Friends and Influence People

The people closest to me over the years weren't drawn in by my personal qualities, or by things like generosity, sense of humor, intelligence, shared interests or lively conversation. They've invariably been people who I have in some way flattered.

I can only conclude that the key to making friends is to flatter the bejesus out of everyone you meet. Because, really, human relationships are never about you!

My sloppy language has been pointed out to me. I was referring, at least in my first paragraph, to genuine praise, whereas the dictionary insists that "flattery" is always insincere.

The problem is that there's no equivalent noun for sincere expressions of admiration. "Praise", for example, includes terse off-handed dabs of encouragement ("Attaboy!"). It also, says the dictionary "usually suggests the judgment of a superior." And "compliments" doesn't cut it. So it's become common to use/misuse "flattery" to describe any fervent expression of admiration - sincere or not. In a few decades, lexicographers may have to acknowledge this new usage. So...I'm not wrong, I'm ahead of my time!

But, to clarify, I'm referring here to sincere praise. Again and again, I've observed the mirroring effect - the offerer of compliments appearing nobler, smarter, just simply better to the recipient (a process that's always unconscious for the latter). I stand by my proposition that for most people, no display of kindness, generosity, intelligence, or humor can trigger the same degree of reflective admiration as a single dab of flattery - sincere or not.

The dark, scary question I refuse to examine is the extent to which this same unconscious bonding-via-praise process has affected me when I've been a recipient. I won't go there because I have a fair bit of ego invested in my comparative egolessness.


ProgGrrl said...

Ha... I bet if I looked really close at my own friends and associates I'd find something similar. Everyone needs to get themselves in the "self esteem bath" on a regular basis, eh?


-- Erica B.

Jim Leff said...

There may or may not be anything harmful in lapping up the strokes coming one's way here in the universe.

But the extent to which that determines relationships - and facilitates manipulation! - is nothing less than alarming. As is the greater insight that, really, very little that happens in relationships is really about you.

It also leaves me feeling awfully self-conscious about how and why I choose to offer compliments. Oh, and btw, Erica, I must say I've always admired your joie de vivre, earnest good humor, and ardent open-hearted embrace of the causes you admire and believe in.

Was that appropriate? Is this mic on?

Blog Archive