Whether we call it bootlicking, apple-polishing, kissing up, managing up, or dozens of other less delicate terms, currying favor can be painful for everyone. Currying favor is that behavior of a subordinate intended to make the boss feel good, especially about the subordinate.
When someone curries favor, peers can feel stress. To counteract the tactic, peers tend to defend themselves, or to attack the currier. When they do, they can appear to be petty or vengeful. Whether or not they respond, peers can lose status and suffer career damage.
Here are some common favor-currying tactics.
- Compliments about personal attire are especially popular because they're ambiguous — they provide tests of the effectiveness of the strategy. If the tactics work, the currier moves on to compliment more personal attributes.
- Forms of mimicry include adopting the mannerisms, speech, or dress of the boss. But mimicry can go much deeper, including acquiring identical interests in specific foods, particular professional sports or teams, political alignment, religious affiliation, or charities.
- Subtle psychological manipulation
- Compliments about
personal attire are
- To make the boss feel smart or useful or important, the currier can seek advice, guidance, or support from the boss when it really isn't necessary. Although these tactics can be difficult to identify, they're transparent to some, especially to those who've used them personally, or who have experienced their use by others.
- Excessive, ostentatious dedication
- Many of us work long hours. But those who consistently do so in a manner that makes the effort visible to the boss could be currying favor. Similarly, most of us agree occasionally to "step up" to impossible tasks. But those who jump to do so in a highly visible way could be currying favor.
- Opportunities to express adoration abound. One favorite is making obvious efforts to sit beside the boss at meetings, presentations, or lunches, and competing with others for the "honor."
- Fulfilling the boss's dreams
- When groups debate strategy, curriers often propose "solutions" that please the boss, whether or not the solutions are feasible.
Currying favor corrupts. It harms the organization, first by creating tension among its people. But when it works, it can be as toxic as bribery or extortion, because it distorts decisions. And that means that the organization might act (or not) for reasons other than organizational interests.
Organizations must make decisions on their merits, whether the issue is the substance of the work, the configuration of the organization, or the advancement of personnel. Influencing those decisions by currying favor weakens the organization, which threatens us all.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
For an outstanding example of a currier in action, watch the character "Sgt. Red O'Neill," played by John C. McGinley in the 1986 film Platoon. (Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe; Director: Oliver Stone). Order from Amazon.com.
Because currying favor can be risky, practitioners often use indirect tactics. See "The True Costs of Indirectness," Point Lookout for November 29, 2006, for more on indirectness.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Using Indirectness at Work
- Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information
indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore
well-being and comity within the organization.
- I've Got Your Number, Pal
- Recent research has uncovered a human tendency — possibly universal — to believe that we
know others better than others know them, and that we know ourselves better than others know themselves.
These beliefs, rarely acknowledged and often wrong, are at the root of many a toxic conflict of long standing.
- OODA at Work
- OODA is a model of decision-making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as
combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.
- Suspense Is Not Your Friend
- Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes
we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated
ideas effectively, avoid suspense.
- Behavioral Indicators of Political Risk
- Avoiding dangerous political interactions is easier if you know what to look for. Among the indicators
of possible trouble are the behaviors of the people around you.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.