7 Ingratiating Behaviors for Success. Learn the Rules & Play The Game Better.

team building & leadership expert michael cardus



The first time I was terminated from a job my father shared some advice that I still believe and use to this day. This advice was shared when I was beginning my career and as an eager young man, I wanted advancement and promotion. But no-one would listen, so I chose to rebel, and take a victim stance…then I was fired. This is what my dad told me;

“Mickey (he called me Mickey, when he was proud or imparting wisdom) if you want to get ahead, learn the game and play the rules. Only once you learn the game better; can you influence the other people. Kicking and pounding on the door yelling that YOU SHOULD PLAY gets you no-where and everyone just thinks you are an asshole.” 

This advice came to mind while reading Penelope Trunk’s post entitled: List of social skills a solid career requires. In this post she speaks of “brownnosing” and the challenges that can arise.

I prefer to think of it as learning the rules; once you learn the rules you can  influence and create changes because you know how to play. In Trunk’s post she mentions research from James Westphal and Ithai Stern at Kellogg School of Management.  They found that being adept at ingratiating behavior was the number-one factor for getting positions at the top of the corporate ladder.

I (like my father) prefer to think of these ingratiating behaviors much like rules of  manners and etiquette. Once you are able to master the game, better than those around you play, you can make the rules change and increase success. 

According to the study, here are the traits that are most likely to be rewarded.

1. Frame flattery as advice-seeking. For example, you can ask, “How were you able to close that deal so successfully?”

2. Argue before accepting a manager’s opinion.

3. Compliment the manager to friends in his or her social network.

4. Act as if you realize that flattery will make the manager uncomfortable. For example, you can say, “I don’t want to embarrass you but your presentation was really top-notch.”

5. Agree with the manager’s values before agreeing with his or her opinions.

6. Tell the manager’s friends how much you agree with his or her values.

7. Bring up affiliations you think you may have in common with the manager, such as a religious group or political party.


Conclusion: We all play games, work games, leadership games, ingratiation games, spouse games…it is time we learn the rules. And in learning the rules we can begin to understand how to change and influence the game itself.

Like my father said Kicking and pounding on the door yelling that YOU SHOULD PLAY gets you no-where and everyone just thinks you are an asshole.

Take time, learn the rules and then play your game as well and as hard as you can!


michael cardus is create-learning

image by andrecarol

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