Saturday, December 10, 2011

Keeping it Real and Being against the Art of Flattery

Polish court jester Stańczyk sitting sad and dejected
Stańczyk by Jan Matejko
They say that if you want a job nowadays, it is all about the contacts you have. Although education is important (and beneficial) and although your resume may be bolstered by hands-on experience, it will be much more difficult for you to land the job unless you do a little bit of networking on the side. Or as they also say, it is not what you know but who you know.

Despite my belief that merits should speak for themselves, I can see how personal characteristics can be vital in the job market. The employer who either directly or from hearsay can vouch for the job-seeker's personality will choose you because personality goes a long way. Sure, the employer can always check and verify your references, but it would save them a lot of time and hassle if you are at least somewhat familiar to them.

I do not doubt that personality should be a major factor in hiring decision. Someone who has education and experience but has a lousy temper or lacks professionalism in their demeanor or actions may not be as qualified as others who make up in the personality department by being cheerful, responsible, independent and a team-player at the same time.

All this preamble will (eventually) lead us to the main topic at hand here: flattery. Networking may get you the job but in order to keep it or to advance in it, many people use flattery to their advantage.

Flattery is as old as Swiss cheese. It was used freely and extensively among the aristocrats, for example. When you are facing a despot king who may lack rhyme and reason but who still had power and authority, in particular, power over your life and fate, then you would be wise to flatter him to be and remain in his good books. I believe one of the best examples to be the fairy tale “The Emperor's New Clothes” where everyone agreed to flatter the king on his super-lightweight, non-existent clothes. To state the truth in such a situation means risking imprisonment or even death.

It has been a similar case with the royal advisers of old. Afraid of giving “bad” news, they would flatter the king, conveniently gloss over his errors, diminish and conceal the reasons for defeat, especially if the king's decisions had a hand in it. The only person at court who would give real advice would be the court jester or clown. Being considered a fool anyway, he had nothing to lose and in Shakespearean manner he could criticize and expose the king's flaws, although Shakespeare may have romanticized that notion to a certain degree.

Yet the point here is that flattery has not gone extinct and is still at full force even within modern democratic systems. For instance, it is alive and kicking in the modern job market.

Professional flatterers exclaim that it is a jungle out there, a world of dog-eat-dog so they are merely trying to survive. By making the boss feel good about herself, their chances of survival would increase, according to their logic. Face it, next time there is a higher position at stake, it is not usually timid hardworking Joe who gets promoted but charming verbal master Steve.

To shed some more light on this situation, let us define flattery here. Flattery is information that regardless of its validity is meant to please the recipient. There are other derogatory terms used for such behavior, “boot-licker” and “ass-kisser,” for instance, but I am not here to insult anyone, so we shall play it fair and clean.

As can be seen, the motive is to make the boss feel good about himself, and it is purely for selfish reasons because the flatterer is driven by ambition and wants to succeed. Flattery is hence not only an art form but can be used as a weapon. It is a form of art because there are certain skills involved, and the professional flatterer knows them by heart and has them imprinted on his sleeve.

A little bit of flattery here and there may be all right although I am instinctively opposed to it as a rule. Honesty and integrity are often not so compatible with the flatterer. And they can be scrupulous. In order to reach their goal, these ambitious people may even use gossip, flattery's dark sister, to get to their position.

After winning the trust of the boss through affected kind words and a show of steadfastness, the flatterer has worked his way up to the boss's confidence. Then comes the cruel blow, a piercing comment about a co-worker which, true or not, may be the end of that person. And the flatterer is deep inside quite insecure and envious, and she would not want the co-workers to “steal” from her what she “rightfully” sees as her own, job security or the desired upcoming promotion.

Unfortunately, in the real world, these flatterers do get what they want regardless of whether they are truly qualified or not. They charm their way through but deep inside they resemble snakes that can bite and poison you with words and deeds at any given moment. So whether you are a co-worker or a boss, please heed this advice: Beware of the hidden fangs of the flatterer!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First, indeed, all about networking which I am terrible at. Hence I do not have a job yet. Second, flattery. Funny, I was just reading some flattering comments others wrote about a former boss on LinkedIn. They were probably sincere but indeed. Indeed.
- Karen