How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Ingratiation is a simple method of influence that seeks to get others to like you and hence comply with your requests.
Jones (1964) defined three methods of ingratiation: other-enhancement (flattery), opinion-conformity (agreement) and self-presentation.
Tell the other person how wonderful they are. Express admiration of their achievements and for the person. Exaggerate their positive attributes and excuse, downplay or ignore their negatives. Show that you like them, respect them and trust them.
If they have written or done things of which they are proude, indicate how you have taken time to read their works or study their actions as these are so excellent as to be worthy of anyone's time and attention.
Tell them that others appreciate them also, particularly those they respect.
When they express an opinion, agree with them, wholeheartedly. Show you have similar beliefs and values. Be impressed with their arguments and do not challenge their assertions. Smile and nod when they are talking (except when they are talking negatively, when it is better to show concern).
Show your agreement subtly by re-using their words, matching their body language and otherwise indicate that you are in rapport with them. Lean towards them. When they frown, you frown. When they are animated, show visible enthusiasm.
You need not agree with everything, but it can be a good idea to be relatively gentle in your opposition an allow yourself to be persuaded on points that are important to them and disagree on things that not so important to them.
Present yourself in a way that the other person will like. If they like smartly-dressed people, dress up. If they prefer jeans and T-shirt, dress down.
Speak well. Be knowledgeable but not arrogant. Speak clearly and concisely rather than rambling on at length and hogging the talk time. Be interesting and interested. Listen well and show you understand.
You can also ingratiate yourself with others by actively helping them, looking after their interests and generally providing support.
Although ingratiation is often expressly viewed with distaste, in practice it is very common. The key to successful ingratiation is that the person does not realize that you are doing this. This usually means being subtle rather than exaggerated.
Flattery and agreement when people have a high opinion of themselves as it is in alignment with their own views. When they have less self-esteem, flattery acts as a boost and, even if the person does not agree with the comments, they will likely appreciate the kindness.
Flattery and agreement work because to reject the flatterer is to reject the positive comments about oneself. Importantly for persuasion, there is also an exchange dynamic created whereby they feel obliged to repay the kindness.
A way to make the ingratiation more effective and credible is to start with a criticism and end with flattery. If the criticism is of an already known and accepted failure or weakness then this will not be taken badly. The contrast then between the criticism and flattery makes it all the more powerful. It also means you do not need to exaggerate the flattery as much to still have a strong effect.
Rather than stroking the other person, self-presentation works simply on ensuring you look good and are likeable. If they like you, then they are more likely to do as you ask.
Appelbaum and Hughes (1998) note how ingratiation is used in organizations for internal political ends, including 'strategic ingratiation' that leads to promotion or pay rise. This includes:
Organizational politics tend to increase when managers are more powerful and autocratic, when favoritism is common and when individuals are forced to compete with one another for management approval. Ambiguity and uncertainty increases this also as individuals hedge against unexpected criticism.
Ingratiation is not always appreciated and may be seen as manipulation or a low-status, low-self-esteem activity. A way to make ingratiation fail is to over-do it or use it in cultures where any form of ingratiation is viewed with distaste or where authenticity is highly valued.
Helping too much is a typical issue, where the ingratiating person upsets the balance of social capital and the target person becomes annoyed by the implied obligation that is put on them. This may explain why trying to help someone only results in anger and unkindness in return.
In some situations where one person assumes a subservience, such as waiting table, ingratiation may be the norm and is expected. Waiters who ingratiate are often likely to receive a higher tip.
Edward E. Jones, Ingratiation: a social psychological analysis, (Century Psychology Series), Meredith Publishing Company, 1964
Appelbaum, S. and Hughes, B. (1998). Ingratiation as a political tactic: effects within the organization, Management Decision, 36, 2, 85–95