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If you want someone to comply with your request, try using flattery to persuade.

 

Flattery, compliments and exaggerated tributes, are among numerous ingratiation tactics that people use to induce someone to perform a particular behavior.

Flattery brightens a person’s mood

Psychologists Anthony Pratkanis, Craig Abbott, and their team approached two categories of people in a shopping area. In their primary test group, they stopped passersby, complimented them on an item they were wearing (shirt, dress, jewelry), and then presented a request. They asked those people to participate in a “stop junk mail” campaign by sending complaint cards to chronic junk mailers. With the control group, the psychologists simply asked the passersby what time it was.

Compliance increased 10 percent among those who were complimented.

Writing in an unpublished manuscript, Pratkanis said his team discovered that the flattery was effective not because the passersby liked the psychologist who complimented them but because flattery brightened their mood and made them feel good about themselves.

Pratkanis said that if you use flattery to persuade, you might increase chances of success if you are not obvious about it. Otherwise, it can appear phony. An example of indirect praise is when a manager who sees an employee in the office at 7 a.m. says, “I wish everyone on the team was motivated enough to get here early.”

Flattery can highlight a person’s good qualities

Psychologist Clyde Hendrick and two colleagues used flattery to induce people to comply with their request to fill out a questionnaire.

Hendrick used two categories of tactics in asking people in a cover letter to fill out a questionnaire. You can insert descriptive adjectives and phrases that appeal to the person’s goodness or kindness, as in, It’s generous of you to take a few minutes to fill out this survey. You also can use terms that describe you in a positive light. We respectfully ask for your support because we genuinely feel the results will be worth your effort.

The flattery tactics had the greatest impact when the request called for substantial effort, as in filling out a seven-page questionnaire rather than a one-page survey. The tactics had little impact if the request did not require much effort.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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