Backhanded Compliments: How Negative Comparisons Undermine Flattery

63 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019

See all articles by Ovul Sezer

Ovul Sezer

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Emily Prinsloo

Harvard Business School

Alison Brooks

HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: August 20, 2019

Abstract

Seven studies (N = 2352) examine backhanded compliments—seeming praise that draws a comparison with a negative standard—a distinct self-presentation strategy with two simultaneous goals: eliciting liking (“Your speech was good…”) and conveying status (“…for a woman”). Backhanded compliments are common, from delivering feedback in work settings to communicating in casual conversation, and take several distinct forms (Studies 1a-b). Backhanded compliments have mixed effectiveness, as people who deliver backhanded compliments erroneously believe that they will both convey high status and elicit liking (Studies 2a-2b) but recipients and third-party evaluators grant them neither (Study 3a-3b); however, backhanded compliments are successful in reducing recipients’ motivation (Study 3c). We identify two constructs useful in determining the general effectiveness of ingratiation: excessive concern with image drives negative perceptions of backhanded compliment givers, while perceptions of low relative rank in a distribution drives the reduced motivation of backhanded compliment recipients.

Suggested Citation

Sezer, Ovul and Prinsloo, Emily and Brooks, Alison and Norton, Michael I., Backhanded Compliments: How Negative Comparisons Undermine Flattery (August 20, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3439774 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3439774

Ovul Sezer (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

United States

Emily Prinsloo

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Alison Brooks

HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
18
Abstract Views
159
PlumX Metrics