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Why do people flatter you?

People flatter for a variety of reasons. Some do it to gain favor or approval, others use flattery as a way to influence or manipulate. Flattery can also be used sincerely, to encourage or build up another person. Understanding the motivations behind flattery can help discern when it is appropriate or not. This article explores common reasons people use flattery and how to best respond in different situations.

To Gain Favor

One of the most common reasons for flattery is to gain favor with someone. By complimenting another person or emphasizing their positive attributes, the flatterer hopes to get on their good side. This is often done when trying to make a good first impression, such as at a job interview or when meeting someone important. The flatterer may compliment the person’s appearance, achievements, taste, or any number of things. This type of flattery can be appropriate if it is reasonable and not overdone. A few genuine compliments can help establish rapport. However, excessive flattery comes across as insincere and may achieve the opposite effect intended.


– Telling an interviewer “Your company is so impressive, I’ve always wanted to work here.”

– Meeting someone at a party and gushing “I’ve heard so many wonderful things about you!”

– Complimenting a superior on their leadership skills or judgment.

How to respond

– Be gracious but don’t get carried away reciprocating extensive flattery.

– Focus on professional qualifications and substantive conversation. Too much flattery looks like “buttereing up.”

– Sincerely thank them for any compliments and redirect the conversation to productive matters.

To Influence

Another motive behind flattery is to influence or persuade the recipient. By using compliments and praise, the flatterer aims to get the person to agree to something or adopt the flatterer’s point of view. This is common in selling and marketing situations or any time someone wants to convince another to do something that benefits them. It may also be a factor in relationships when one partner uses flattery to get their way. Even if the admiration expressed is genuine, the purpose behind it is manipulation.


– A car salesman telling a customer “With your good taste, this model would be perfect for you.”

– A politician complimenting voters on their intelligence and values to get support.

– A boyfriend telling his girlfriend how beautiful she looks in hopes she’ll agree to go to the restaurant he chose.

How to respond

– Recognize that exaggerating praise may signal an attempt to manipulate.

– Consider the flatterer’s motives and what they have to gain. Don’t let compliments cloud your judgment.

– Thank them but make decisions based on objective facts and your own goals.

To Soften Criticism

Flattery is also used to cushion criticism or difficult feedback. By starting with praise, the criticism seems less harsh and may be better received. The flatterer buffers their real opinion in a compliment “sandwich.” This approach is often taught in management training programs. However, when overused it can seem disingenuous. Sincere, constructive feedback doesn’t need excessive flattery.


– A manager telling an employee: “You’re normally so reliable but you’ve seemed distracted lately and missed a few deadlines.”

– A wife complaining to her husband: “You’re so thoughtful most of the time but you never put your dishes in the dishwasher.”

– A friend saying: “You’re so smart I know you can do better than the C you got on that test.”

How to respond

– Focus on the constructive feedback and make appropriate changes.

– Remember that sincere criticism need not be cushioned with flattery.

– Thank them for their perspective and open a constructive dialogue.

To Be Polite

In many social situations, flattery is used to be friendly and polite. This is especially common in cultures where hospitality is highly valued. Complimenting food, someone’s home, possessions, or family are all part of social rituals. These sorts of compliments act as conversational lubricants to put people at ease and demonstrate good manners. As long as they are reasonable and sincere, this type of flattery can have value in maintaining social bonds.


– Thanking a dinner host and complimenting the meal.

– Telling a friend their new outfit looks great on them.

– Politely complimenting a colleague’s presentation skills after a meeting.

How to respond

– Reciprocate with similar compliments and thank them for their kindness.

– Make sure to sincerely compliment hosts, gifts, or other niceties that are shown to you.

– Avoid excessive flattery that might look like obvious fawning.

To Validate

Sincere flattery can also be used to validate someone and make them feel good about themselves. We all have a fundamental human need to be recognized and appreciated. Appropriate compliments can fulfill this need and strengthen bonds between people. This type of flattery should come from a genuine place without expectation of favors or manipulation. It can boost confidence and encourage continued growth and achievement.


– Praising an employee for good work and initiative

– Telling a spouse how much you appreciate their sacrifice and support

– Letting a friend know how much you admire their talent and skill

How to respond

– Accept the compliments gracefully and let them know you appreciate their praise.

– Be inspired to continue growing and improving.

– Offer sincere compliments in return.


Flattery ultimately has the most value when used with care and sincerity. Appropriate, measured compliments can help build relationships, demonstrate courtesy, and inspire greater achievements. However, excessive, insincere flattery is usually obvious and can have the opposite effect intended. By understanding the motivations behind flattery, we can discern when it is appropriate and when it crosses the line into manipulation or insincerity. With this awareness, we can make sure flattery enhances our relationships and interactions.

Type of Flattery Motivation Appropriate Response
To gain favor Get on someone’s good side, make a good impression Be gracious but don’t get carried away reciprocating. Focus on qualifications and substantive conversation.
To influence Persuade, convince someone to do something Consider motives and make decisions based on facts and your own goals.
To soften criticism Cushion difficult feedback Focus on constructive feedback and open a dialogue.
To be polite Demonstrate good manners and hospitality Reciprocate with sincere compliments. Avoid excessive flattery.
To validate Make someone feel appreciated Accept compliments gracefully. Offer sincere compliments in return.

Flattery is a complex social ritual that requires nuance and tact. With understanding, we can better discern when it is appropriate and when it crosses into insincerity or manipulation. Approached thoughtfully, flattery can add value to our relationships and interactions with others. However, when used excessively or inappropriately, it can undermine trust and goodwill. The motivation and context make all the difference.