The Power of Harmless Flattery




Ah, childhood! If I could go back in time and experience those moments again. I didn't yearn to be a grown-up. I was the oldest in my generation so I had enough power to boss around the brood that followed after me, thanks to my parent’s big families. Being the firstborn, I had enough influence over my uncles and aunts, enjoying all the attention and warmth of the family for a period. Moreover, I came into a family with very few females, so I was received with much anticipation. I thoroughly basked in that glory till the younger ones came along; one by one. But even then, I was the big sister. I never bullied them, but they would probably have a different story. For the time being, it's my story, so I decide to place on record that I was a very gracious big sister.


Summer holidays and school holidays were times when all of us came together at our ancestral home. One day, all of us were sitting together and playing. My ammachi (grandmother) called out for me. I picked myself up very reluctantly, knowing I couldn't say anything. As I approached my ammachi, I had a look of displeasure on my face because I knew she was going to give me some chores to do. She said, “Maria, please fold Grandpa's shirts and keep them in the cupboard.” One look at my face, and my grandmother knew what was going on in my mind. Then, she told me, "Do you know why I called you from that lot? It's because only you can do a perfect folding. Grandpa always says that when you do it, it doesn't even have to be ironed.” My face lit up and I took to the task with all my prowess. In my excitement, I forgot about my cousins playing on the other side of the house and most importantly, I was so preoccupied with impressing my grandparents that I took no notice of the fact that I had never folded my grandpa's shirts before! And oh my, did I not do a good job!


So here was my first management lesson from my grandmother, who was no MBA graduate. She not only got the work done but also got the best out of a cranky 10-year-old with harmless flattery. Flattery is a word with a bad reputation, often considered in a negative context. But is it always that bad? Flattery feeds directly into our ego and self-identity. It makes us feel good about ourselves, so naturally, we are not immune to its charms. It affects our behavior outside of our awareness. We tend to respond more positively to situations, people, and products that make us feel good about ourselves; so says the psychologists, not me! Like the child who said the emperor is naked, sometimes we need to be brutally honest. But it's okay to boost each other’s ego once in a while and lift self-confidence with small words of praise and flattery. Believe me, it works like magic!