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Want to outsmart your boss? But, it may backfire

By Shyamal Majumdar
Last updated on: November 21, 2014 15:53 IST

Sycophants may be the butt of corporate jokes, but some of them have made buttering-up the boss a fine art, notes Shyamal Majumdar.

Image: Being the bosses yes-man has its own perils, say experts. Photograph: Reuters

A cartoon in The Economic Times earlier this week showed a middle-aged man lying prostrate before his boss who says, "I was looking for a regular yes-man, but you have demonstrated excellence."

The second one on cartoonstock shows three board members with their hands raised in favour of a proposal while the other three are against it.

The CEO is seen asking his invisible secretary to send one of his yes-men to break the tie. But my all-time favourite is the one that I saw some years ago - a boss pointing at a picture of a jellyfish and saying he wishes he had colleagues whose backbone is as firm as the marine animal.

They may be the delight of business cartoonists, the butt of many corporate jokes and have been the recipients of colourful descriptions - sycophants, yes-men, suck-ups, boot-lickers, brownnosers and so on.

But their presence hasn't diminished one bit. Even Socrates alerted people about them in about 400 B C, when he said: "Think not those faithful who praise thy words and actions, but those who kindly reprove thy faults".

Movies haven't spared them either.

Those of you who have seen Yes Man, a British-American romantic comedy, would remember how Carl Allen (played by Jim Carrey) is stuck in a rut in his career until the day he goes to a self-help programme and learns a very simple idea: say yes to everything.

The magical power of "yes" results in an unexpected promotion.

At the end, however, Allen finds too much of what he calls positive thinking can boomerang.

Much has also been written about why bosses should be wary of such eager-to-please people who spend their entire career using the art of sucking up to get ahead.

They are forever praising the boss who can't tolerate dissent and are poor listeners and hence surround themselves with people who say what he wants to hear.

But HR consultants say many people, who are good in their job otherwise, have made flattering the boss a subtle and sophisticated art. Here are a few of those "bright" ideas they practise to have their nose ahead in the rat race.

First, they don't praise the boss directly since that may put him off. But they make sure that the word gets around and it finally reaches him/her.

For a start, they identify people who are close to him and praise the boss for the way he has handled a crisis or the way he inspires the rank and file.

This often works. After all, which boss will ignore a "silent" admirer? Second, they always use "we" instead of "you" when the company does something great to achieve an important milestone.

They list out only those initiatives that the boss has taken and give all credit to those initiatives alone for the company's success.

But all that is couched under "we" or the senior management. The actual message is usually not lost on the boss.

Third, people who want to get close to the boss always look for the right opportunities.

For example, a CEO, who usually remained isolated in his cabin, once came out to meet his staff and engaged in a free interaction.

The next day, one of the juniors saw the CEO in the portico waiting for his car and grabbed the opportunity to tell him how his interaction has led to a sea change in the morale of the employees and how it has become a talking point in office. Such compliments in private always work - however aloof the boss is.

Fourth, the super-smart flatterers always start with a contra view during their meetings with the boss.

They raise a well-argued point that is diametrically opposite to what the boss is suggesting and then slowly come around to agree with the boss' opinion.

This strategy kills two birds with one stone: while no colleague would be able to figure out that he is a yes-man, the boss would think that his power of persuasion is great.

The only danger is that the game would be up if it is repeated often. Such people are often known to rise up the corporate ladder faster than the reticent or those who are perceived to be the opposing types.

Shyamal Majumdar
Source: source