Afraid of looking like a “suckup”?
8 times you should get over it.
One of the greatest TV characters ever was Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver’s oily conniving friend on “Leave It To Beaver.” Eddie was an archetype who no decent person wants to resemble — a two-faced sycophant, always scheming and currying favor to promote his plans.
The fear of looking like a brown noser is so powerful among professionals that sometimes they shy away from obvious opportunities to make a friend or pursue a goal. Among my clients, it seems that the people who worry most about looking like Eddie Haskell are the modest straight shooters.
Are you one of those who is reluctant to offer a heartfelt tribute for fear it will be taken as apple-polishing? Do you avoid voicing sincere admiration because people might think you have a hidden agenda? If so, you’re probably overreacting.
Here are 8 situations when you should get over your fear of sucking up:
- When they’re your customers. Whether you’re a techie or an accountant, remaining upbeat and sometimes even a little complimentary can be part of how you offer excellent service. As you think about how to pitch your remarks, recall a meal where you received superb service in a restaurant. Chances are your server was flatteringly attentive, without being obsequious or intrusive. You can refine your conversational tone by noticing what makes you feel well cared for when you’re the one paying the bill.
- When it’s a boss. Are you reluctant to say “good job” to the big boss because you don’t want to seem sycophantic? Well, consider what it’s like from that boss’s perspective. Maybe she worked her way into this job because she’s the kind of person who is motivated by getting A’s. Now, however, if everybody is afraid to applaud her achievements she may start to feel unappreciated. It’s not healthy or smart when the whole team is reluctant to give a leader honest positive feedback. Stop being so self-conscious and allow yourself to be as nice to your boss as you are to your other colleagues.
- When you’re supporting a positive environment. Research suggests that people are most productive in a workplace where a substantial majority of the comments are affirmative. Humans tend to over-respond to negative cues and may do their best work when about two-thirds of the feedback they receive is good. If you consistently contribute to the environment by keeping most of your words authentically upbeat, people won’t regard your praise as manipulative.
- When you want to make new friends. As long as you’re not being untruthful or over-the-top, it’s OK to express respect or gratitude to a person you’d like to know better. Finding something nice to say is a polite and acceptable way of building a relationship.
- When it’s wise to avoid conflict. Some people are never going to be your friends but you have to find a way to get along with them anyway. If they are annoying, you may make things even worse if you indulge in complaints. If they are bullies, you may attract more torture if you let them see your pain. When you’re dealing with difficult people, a good starting point can be to talk yourself into a mood of relaxed confidence. Then look for the good things about them, so you can diffuse the tension with a compliment that is genuine and on target.
- When you owe them an apology. There are moments when groveling is justified. Like when you forgot an important deadline, or said something dreadful at the office holiday party. It’s OK to cringe and humble yourself when you want forgiveness for doing something truly wrong.
- When it would be kind. It is always appropriate to put people at ease or calm their anxiety, regardless of their rank or yours. If empathy makes you want to offer a flattering remark, don’t be put off by concern about how observers may judge your motives. And if you can’t say anything nice maybe you really shouldn’t say anything at all.
- When you feel shy. When some people say, “I don’t want to suck up,” the real truth is that they are afraid to step forward. If you feel reluctant to speak up, look more closely at your motives. Do you actually think it would look bad or is it just that the thought of drawing attention to yourself gives you butterflies? It’s OK to be fearful. But make a smart, conscious choice about how you will respond to that fear.
If you do mean it, and you want to say it, don’t hold back from offering praise or thanks just because cynics might criticize you.