Are You Building And Nurturing A Network? Or Falling Victim To Strategic Errors? Part 4

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I often talk with clients about networking, both in person and online through social media sites like LinkedIn. In this series, I’ll write about some of the most common errors I see. Strategic Error: Flattery.

There is a big difference between compliments and flattery: one is genuine; the other is not.

Compliments are sincere expressions of admiration or interest.

Flattery is manipulative and condescending.

As you expand your professional network, it can be good to use compliments judiciously. You might, for example, comment on an article the lawyer wrote, congratulate her on a recent court victory, mention a presentation or panel discussion she participated in, or other accomplishment. These can be great ways to establish a rapport and demonstrate your genuine interest in her work and career path. Your comments don’t have to be lengthy; two or three sentences that clearly indicate you actually read and thought about her article is sufficient.

Flattery, on the other hand, is unlikely to lead to a productive or positive relationship, because it’s insulting. Telling the lawyer that her article is the most brilliant one you’ve ever read in your whole life is clearly excessive, especially since you will be unable to back up that claim with two or three sentences like you would be able to back up a compliment. She will likely not be fooled into thinking your flattery is a genuine indicator of interest in her work. Instead, she will rightly construe your comment as an attempt to manipulate her by appealing to her ego. She will rightly be suspicious of you. She may not respond to you at all, or respond only curtly.

If you’re not sure whether you’re giving a compliment or slipping into flattery, then ask yourself a few questions that fall into two main categories:

  • What is your motivation in contacting her? Do you have genuine interest in the individual and what she does? Do you want to help her further her mission or hire her? Or instead are you hoping to get something (like job leads or free services) from her?
  • Are your “compliments” reason-based statements that can be backed up with evidence? Or instead are they emotional appeals supported only by hyperbole?