Deep down everyone wants to feel appreciated, to feel important. What drives that feeling of importance is different for each of us. For example, mine surges from making a lasting impact on our society, whether its at work (by contributing to projects that are redefining the future of my community) or at home (by sharing advice, experiences, and resources to help you be your best “you”). What drives your feeling of importance?
Dale Carnegie’s big secret to dealing with people is to satisfy their hunger to feel important. He claims that when we make people feel appreciated, we can get them to do what we want for two reasons: (1) the positive interaction helps us bond; and, (2) it reinforces the behavior(s) we’re seeking.
The problem I have with this principle is that it is difficult to apply authentically. There is an ultra fine line between using it for good and using it for evil. I mean, doesn’t it sound manipulative to praise others to further a personal agenda? It certainly does to me.
Dale Carnegie acknowledges this challenge, which is why he delves into the difference between appreciation and flattery for nearly four pages of this chapter. He explains that appreciation surges from the heart, making it sincere and unselfish. It requires us to stop thinking about ourselves for ten seconds to reflect on the other person’s good qualities. On the other hand, flattery requires little effort because you’re defaulting to saying what the receiver wants to hear, making it insincere and selfish.
I wasn’t very successful with Principle 1 but, man, this one was way harder for me. It had my conscience on overdrive all of last week as I searched for opportunities to show appreciation honestly and sincerely. I kept thinking to myself, “Am I complimenting my colleagues because I truly feel this way, or because I want them to keep doing what they’re doing?” It was a total mind trip and, in the end, I complimented no one for fear of being disingenuous!
So here’s what I learned: you can make giving honest, sincere appreciation harder than it has to be. If you’re superglued to your moral compass like I am, you probably already go around saying “thank you” and passing out praise when it is warranted. Plus, you can already tell when you’re forcing out untruths. (I get that tell-tale feeling at the pit of my stomach.) Instead of overthinking it and giving no praise, let appreciation flow naturally and shift your focus on avoiding the use of flattery in those awkward professional and social situations. Don’t use flattery as a crutch.
“Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.” —Mexican General Alvaro Obregón