Buttering Up, Or Good Leadership?

We all love a good compliment — except when we see it as self-interested or disingenuous. Hence my client’s recent complaint that his manager was “buttering him up.”

Another client, a founder of a startup, gives praise on the reg and his team loves him the more for it.

So how can we appreciate others in a way that really lands? Pay attention to them and tap into genuine gratitude, simply (but not always easily, when we’re busy and distracted).

Done artfully, appreciation motivates and connects others to the best in themselves. It’s manipulation with healthy intent and hopefully impact. Everyone wins.

Want evidence? In one study, social workers who received an appreciative letter felt more valued, more recognized for their work, and more supported by the organization than those who didn’t — a whole month later.

To do appreciation well, consider:

  1. Timing (key milestones are great opportunities)
  2. Make it public staying mindful of triggering competition or comparisons
  3. Do it thoughtfully, versus layering on generic recognition

Learn more on the above three points in this HBR article.

Also keep in mind that the positive impact of appreciation hinges on the recipients’ trust of the person who is giving it.

Otherwise? It will slip and slide right off, or worse, get chalked up to you being selfish, manipulative, and/or disingenuousness—just like my client thought.

So go ahead, butter some people up. Just make sure you’re tending to the overall relationship, and do it thoughtfully to make it stick.

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