Ever heard the saying, “Flattery will get you nowhere.”?
I think whoever wrote that aphorism was likely thinking of the long term effects of flattery. In the short term, flattery can give some advantage…sometimes.
There is a kind of guy who loves to flatter. He will take any and every opportunity to sugar-coat his words toward coworkers, people he does business with, the clerk at the grocery store, and even family members. If you have ever observed this person closely, you will find a motive behind the words of praise.
Of course there are times he might be genuinely praising someone for good reason, because it is deserved and appropriate. But more often than not, it is otherwise.
People typically flatter because they are trying to make an impression on someone else. I don’t want to sound cynical, but in all honesty, this is just the way it is. Solomon said it poignantly:
“A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps.” Proverbs 29:5
The writer of the Proverbs knew this to be true, and that is why he states it so plainly. Flattery is a deceitful mechanism to gain an advantage through the ill-motivated uplifting of another.
Perhaps the reason it is hard to spot is that people love to be praised. Everyone wants to be told they are good, have done well, and everyone wants to be validated. So they tend to not notice when the praise they are getting is falsely motivated. And this is why it is such an effective ploy.
Loading inappropriate accolades on someone can really be a trap waiting to spring.
When someone showers compliments on you, it is wise to seriously consider why they are saying what they are saying, and how they are saying it. Context is important. Are the words spoken in an inappropriate way, or in an inappropriate time? Are they repeated and rehashed? Are they just plain unnecessary?
Sometimes praise is warranted. Sometimes it’s even necessary. But bona fide, heart-felt compliments are carefully meted out and selective. They don’t show up right before a request for a favor. They aren’t overly gratuitous. And they don’t come off as fake and disingenuous.
No matter how flattery may make us feel – validated, successful, accomplished, appreciated…compliments intended to flatter are dangerous.
Watch for the trap.
On the other hand, words of praise CAN BE entirely genuine, and powerfully affective to lift up someone. For more on that kind of praise, see The Power of Words