Saturday, January 16, 2010

Flattery Works; So Do Compliments

Today we have scientific research studying why flattery works. In the old days we had savvy social observers showing how flattery works.

Today we can read about a report by two researchers from Hong Kong that explains why no one, however aware he is, is impervious to the effects of flattery. Link here. Hat tip to Simoleon Sense.

In the old days Tom Wolfe described a moment in the life of a twenty-five year old New York divorcee named Helene. The story is entitled, "The Woman Who Has Everything." It is collected in Wolfe's book, "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby."

The time is 1965. Helene is dating a Cotton Exchange lawyer who can barely summon up any passion for her feminine person.

Not only is Helene bored beyond endurance, but since her social circle has paired her off with the Cotton Exchange lawyer, no other man will even dart a longing glance in her direction.

Then one evening she runs into Porfirio Rubirosa at a party. At the time Rubirosa was the world's leading lothario, a man who had charmed, seduced, and married almost all of the most beautiful women in the world. More information here.

Here is Wolfe's description of the scene, from Helene's point of view: "She hadn't seen him for a year, but he immediately remembered and began pouring absolutely marvelous hot labial looks all over her from across the room and then came over, threading through the rubber jowls and said: 'Helene, how do you do it! Last year, the white lace. This year, the yellow-- you are... wonderful, what is the expression? One hundred percent wonderful.'

"And the crazy thing is, one-- Helene-- knows he means it because he doesn't mean it. Is that too crazy? You are a woman; he is a man. He would break up this stupid Cotton Exchange Terrier universe just to have you. Well, he didn't, but he would. Does one know what Helene means?"

Call it a master class in seduction, but understand that Helene is not being tricked or fooled. She is certainly being flattered, with a compliment that is so extravagant that she accepts it. She knows that she is not 100% percent wonderful, but she does know that he remembers her, that he remembers her name, and that he has taken the trouble to try to say something that will make her feel good. And what, after all, is wrong with that.

Would it be better if he went easier on the flattery and told her that she was 68% wonderful... or 47% wonderful? Would that win him points for honesty?

It is better to have someone who thinks you are worth the effort to flatter than to be with someone who either does not notice or is too afraid to say anything nice.

Something is always better than nothing. Helene spent many hours putting herself together for the party in question. Wolfe describes her efforts in considerable detail. Is it better to be with someone who cannot bring himself to offer a compliment or to run into a near-stranger who is dripping with flattery?

That being said, flattery does not have a very good reputation. Our love of truth and our fear of hypocrisy have taught us that flattery should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, many people have, as the saying goes, thrown the baby out with the bath water. They have not merely forsworn flattery; they have banned compliments from their conversational repertoire.

If a woman makes an effort to look her best for a date, doesn't she deserve something resembling recognition for her effort and for her enhanced appearance? Is she does not, why did he ask her out in the first place?

Or, how about this. If a man is a less than great lover, should a woman critique his performance or praise it beyond its merits? I trust that everyone knows that this question has a right answer: she should praise him beyond his merits. And you know why. The more she compliments him the more confident he will become and the more confident he becomes the better his performance will be.

Flattery, or, if you prefer, well-spoken compliments motivate people to improve their performance, and not just between the sheets.

People are motivated to better themselves. If they believe that someone sees them as better than they are, this can motivate them toward excellence.

Tomorrow's excellence is not a reality. If you want to attain it you have best be able to see yourself attaining it. And it will help your cause if someone else sees you attaining it too.

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