Death by flattery

Death by Flattery - by Greg Alder

Look up Flattery in a dictionary of quotations and you’ll find dozens of entries. Almost as many as for Life or Death, Marriage or Money. These quotes come from all ages of human existence, all corners of the globe and from all faiths.

Yoga master Sri Chinmoy warns his followers about the futility of flattery.

An insincere disciple feels that the Master can be won by outer flattery. But the Master can be won only on the strength of the disciple’s devotion to the Supreme in him and inner, conscious oneness with him. By telling the Master that he is great or by offering the Master material wealth, God-realisation cannot be attained.

Students of the martial art of Chi Sao are warned against attempting to flatter their way into their masters’ hearts.

Do not use manipulation to approach the teacher or master. Refrain from flattery, bribery, coercion, or other forms of manipulation to gain access to the teachings or become closer to the teacher.

So what is it about flattery? Why do some people want it to be the truth while others refuse to see anything but lies? To understand, let’s turn to psychological research. It seems that if a piece of flattery happens to hit us while we’re feeling good about ourselves, then we welcome it as truth. If we’ve been sucked into a black hole of self-loathing, then we will hear flattery as a shallow, cynical lie.

Tricky stuff, huh? How are we supposed to know what mood our clients are in? Is the client who asks your opinion really seeking your approval of his cherished product? Or does he really have some doubts about it himself, but needs an honest and impartial appraisal to convince him his product is no good?

When in doubt, we’ll always choose to flatter – even when we know our flattery is a lie. Instead of alerting our client to a problem, we gloss over it. Instead of holding up a mirror, we dim the lights.

Your client needs to hear the truth: the real reason nobody’s buying his stuff is because it’s crap.

Telling lies saves time

The problem with truth is that it takes time and energy. Say “Yes” to your client every time he or she wants your opinion and that’s the end of it. Challenge your client and you’d better be prepared for a tedious bout of verbal biffo. Cancel lunch. Forget about the afternoon’s golf. This will be slow and painful.

If your relationship with your client hasn’t reached this level of honesty, there’s a good chance that one day he is going to wake up and question whether he really needs you. He’s got a whole bunch of people working for him who are too scared to tell him the truth. He doesn’t need to be paying a whopping fee to an outsider to do what his underpaid minions are doing.

Think about your clients. When did you last have a really good argument? The kind of argument that’s truly beneficial to your working relationship. Arguing over the size of your client’s logo at the bottom of an ad isn’t a good argument. Nor is arguing over who’s turn it is to pay for the coffee.

A good argument is one that challenges fundamental beliefs. A good argument is one that causes a reassessment of objectives or values. It results in a change of direction. It dictates a change to the script.

Not sure you’ve got what it takes to argue productively? You’re probably wrong. There’s a good chance you were equipped with the skills at university. Ian Johnson of Malaspina (now Vancouver Island) University College states,

One of the single most important intellectual skills central to an undergraduate education is the ability to deal with arguments.

You’re taught to argue at university for a reason: because you’re going to need that skill for the rest of your life. Be careful, though. Arguments are potent weapons. No matter how passionate, loud, angry and even life threatening it might be at the time, a good argument leads to new or renewed respect. Are you ready to be respected? You’d better be. Why?


In business, the rule is simple.

If you want to keep a client, tell him the truth.

And if you want to lose a client, tell him anything he wants to hear. For a while he probably won’t even notice that while you’re massaging his ego, you’re helping to kill his brand. Or his career. But sooner or later he’ll notice. And that’s the day he walks.

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