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Profs Who Studied Importance of ‘Ingratiatory Behavior’ Offer Brown-Nosing Basics

Posted Nov 22, 2010 9:01 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Managers with legal backgrounds are particularly skilled at “ingratiatory behavior,” according to two business professors who have studied corporate leaders who won board appointments at other firms.

Besides lawyers, managers and directors with backgrounds in politics, sales, or the upper class are good at sophisticated ingratiation, according to the researchers, Ithai Stern of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and James Westphal of the University of Michigan. The Careerist blog notes the findings, summarized in a recent Kellogg press release.

“Yes, sucking up builds careers, especially if you're just passably smart, as most of us are,” the Careerist notes. The study found that ingratiating behavior was the strongest single predictive factor for obtaining board appointments, and ingratiation was even more important for female or ethnic minorities than whites.

For those who are less skilled in brown-nosing, the press release summarizes the profs’ findings on seven effective methods of ingratiation. They are:

1) Frame flattery as advice-seeking. For example, you can ask, “How were you able to close that deal so successfully?”

2) Argue before accepting a manager’s opinion.

3) Compliment the manager to friends in his or her social network.

4) Act as if you realize that flattery will make the manager uncomfortable. For example, you can say, “I don’t want to embarrass you but your presentation was really top-notch.”

5) Agree with the manager’s values before agreeing with his or her opinions.

6) Tell the manager’s friends how much you agree with his or her values.

7) Bring up affiliations you think you may have in common with the manager, such as a religious group or political party.

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