Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Does brownnosing really pay off?

How to Brownnose
When bosses catch on to brownnosing "yes-men," the plan backfires on them.
When bosses catch on to brownnosing "yes-men," the plan backfires on them.
Kuznetsov Dmitry

Although the studies we discussed on the last page have shown how susceptible we are to brownnosing, we aren't always fooled. It's easy for a brownnoser to go too far.

­When the boss finally does recognize that a brownnoser is sucking up for personal gain, the jig is up. He'll probably get disgusted with the brownnoser and brush off his flattering words from then on. The effective brownnoser is careful not to cross the line and make his plans obvious. Psychologists call this problem the Ingratiator's Dilemma. It refers to a brownnoser's attempt to get on someone's good side without overdoing it or making his scheme obvious.

Even if you don't consider yourself a brownnoser, you might run into this situation. For instance, to write an effective recommendation letter, one has to talk up the subject without crossing the line into ridiculous praise [source: Giacalone]. You might mean every word you say, but at a certain point, the reader might find it hard to believe. If you go too far, you could ruin the chances for the person you're trying to help.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between showing disrespect and fawning over your superiors. But there are some ways to effectively ingratiate yourself with your boss without raising red flags. For instance, your boss probably has a style and a rhythm all his own, and you should try to match it [source: Weiss]. Like the maxim says, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Mimicking his behavior will help you win his favor and probably make you and your boss a more productive team. If you feel compelled to compliment him, be sincere.

Respect is the keyword here. You can respectfully follow orders even if you don't always agree with them. Although bosses may like yes-men, show enough respect for him that you occasionally voice disagreement. Let your respect shine through, and hope he appreciates and reciprocates it.

More to Explore