Fence Sitter

Part of getting along socially involves some flattery. Remembering names, titles, and personal circumstances (didn’t you win a declamation contest in grade school?) puts a person in a better disposition to grant favors. Of course, those subjected daily to flattery can be a bit weary of it and alert for ulterior motives.

In a culture that places a high value on the esteem of others, flattery gets you places. It is important to flatter effectively and not be perceived as a flatterer whose opinions are therefore devalued.

It is best to compliment a person on the accomplishments he considers important, even if the contribution of such a skill to the advancement of society is minimal if not negative… as in karaoke singing, raising koi, or a knowledge of weaponry.

Research is required. The worst sin here is to be so out of touch with a person’s background which happens even to television hosts handling the interviews of guests. A clueless interviewer asked a media giant in radio, already a household name, what she did for a living. She was even working in the same network.

In introducing a corporate mogul as a guest speaker, it is best to find the most current information. Describing the speaker as the CEO of a company that has just been acquired in a hostile takeover in which only that morning the subject had been ousted by the new board can be the worst faux pas… presuming the guest even shows up for the event.

Flattery is best done with an audience. What use is adulation if no other person is there to hear it? He will then need to repeat the lavish accolade himself and be open to the embarrassment of the one who originally gave the compliment correcting him and saying, that’s not what he meant at all — I was there when he said that of somebody else.

If one is not quite prepared to give any sort of compliment because he is simply not up to date with what another is presently doing, it is best not to take the initiative, especially if one can’t even remember his name. Wait for clues (I bet you don’t remember my name). Tell him he looks thinner (But I just gained 40 pounds). And then head for the exit.

Should you flatter everyone you meet? The discriminating flatterer selects his prey, reserving his charms only for those powerful enough to advance his agenda. For the rest, he shows only indifference which is as exquisite a skill as flattery and includes even where one should sit and who he should sit with.

Ready compliments (you’re looking fit) have already become a social cliché in special tributes in the entertainment circle or milestone birthdays complete with hosts and a program of speeches whose one theme is to elevate the status of the honoree. While roasting, or good-hearted teasing heaped as a form of manly affection, has been tried, it seldom results in warm feelings, sometimes starting life-long feuds. (There have been countless accomplishments of national import attributed to our honoree, but without any verifiable basis. He is a legend in his own mind.)

Must the giving of compliments always be considered flattery, with the insinuation of insincerity and manipulation? Isn’t there the possibility of honest admiration of another’s talent or generosity as a human being? Affirming somebody’s true value can be sincere, especially when there is nothing to be gained from such an expression of goodwill.

There is a way of differentiating between mere flattery and true esteem. One is intended to secure a favor or a privilege. The other is simply expressed to make the other person feel how special he is. Compliments may even embarrass the subject, who may opt to change the topic — so how was the traffic getting here?

A compliment coming from a superior who cannot possibly expect any reciprocal favor in return is the most prized… unless it is to secure one’s services at a low cost or a bid to get a vote.

Unfortunately, sometimes an outright expression of esteem is withheld in the mistaken belief that it will come across as mere flattery. Especially for those who are close to us, appreciation should be expressed often… even if only whispered in the ear.


A. R. Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda