Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Does brownnosing really pay off?

        Money | Work Life

The Effects of Brownnosing
Brownnosing could really work, according to studies done in interview situations.
Brownnosing could really work, according to studies done in interview situations.

If you suspect your boss has gotten roped in by a brownnoser, you may be right. Psychological research has shown evidence that employers are susceptible to it. In a University of Florida study, researchers tested the effects of brownnosing in the context of job interviews. The tests measured ingratiation and self-promotion techniques [source: Keen]. Ingratiation refers to behavior where the interviewee showed agreement with and even complimented the appearance of the interviewer. Self-promotion, on the other hand, includes the interviewee touting his own abilities and talents. Based on the responses of interviewers, researchers found that ingratiation worked pretty well, but self-promotion didn't help the candidate [source: Higgins].

Perhaps it's just human nature to be susceptible to flattery. One opinion says that flatterers indulge our self-love. But a less cynical explanation says that flatterers appeal to us because we believe they're like us [source: Geake]. Researchers point to the similarity-attraction theory, which states that we're attracted to people who are similar to us [source: Keen]. Yes-men or brownnosers appear to be like us by always complimenting and agreeing with us. Nevertheless, most of us enjoy getting compliments, and we grow fond of people who heap them on us. Based on this theory, we're more likely and more willing to do favors for the people we like.

Rewarding brownnosing doesn't necessarily lead to terrible results and bad management. Employers have a vested interest in rewarding jobs to those whose beliefs align with the company's [source: Keen]. As long as brownnosers are sincere in their agreement, they make a good fit for the company.

The problem comes when employers fail to recognize whether a flatterer is sincere. So if brownnosing is such an obvious tactic for employees to take, one would think employers would be always on guard against it. Researchers found that even when we know a flatterer has something to gain by our good favor, we like flatterers more than people who don't compliment us [source: Weiner].

Perhaps defending against flattery is easier said than done. Studies show that when we witness someone flattering another, we're likely to be suspicious. But if the same person aims the compliment at us, we'll probably fall for it [source: Smith]. Although we -- as a third-party observer -- see right through a brownnoser, our boss, who is the object of the flattery, might not.

­As effective as brownnosing can be, it doesn't always work. Next, we'll talk about the delicate line brownnosers walk.