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Just as every classroom has that one student who sucks up to the teacher, every office has that one employee who sucks up to the boss. In fact, chances are there are a lot more than one.
You know the person: Maybe there’s an employee who constantly hurls flatteries at superiors or laughs a little too much at their jokes. Maybe there’s an employee who brings in sweets for the manager or offers to grab them a coffee from time to time. Or maybe there’s an employee who constantly offers to take on extra work to impress the boss.
The truth is that most workers resort to some of these tactics at one point or another. For better or worse, sucking up has become an essential part of getting ahead in the workplace–we just tend to use more positive terms to describe it, such as “enthusiastic,” “ambitious” and “people pleaser.” Those who don’t do a little sucking up should probably start.
“Getting in good with the people who manage you and are above you is a pretty smart thing to do. These are the people who pay you and promote, so of course, they have a say in how successful you’ll be,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of "From College to Career." "Really successful people focus just as much on their relationships as on the substantive parts of their job."
But even Pollak, who describes herself as a former “teacher’s pet,” admits there is a right way and a wrong way to suck up. At its best, a little extra effort and relationship-building with the boss can help you climb the company ladder more quickly, but if you go about it the wrong way, you run the risk of harming your reputation with your co-workers and perhaps even your boss.
With that in mind, we suggest following these dos and don’ts so you can suck up in the office without necessarily being seen as “the office suck-up.”
1. Ask Your Superiors What They Actually Want
Before you start hanging around your boss’s desk each day chatting and complimenting them, take a minute to have a serious conversation about what their expectations are for your position and how he or she would prefer to be communicated with.
“A lot of people assume they know what makes their boss happy, but they are often wrong,” Pollak says. “You might think it’s a good idea to suck up by cc-ing your boss on everything, but your boss might not like getting lots of emails.”
2. Always Volunteer to Do More
Flattery and nice gestures can be a useful tool to get ahead in the office, but they should never be used in place of hard work. For that reason, Pollak recommends taking the initiative and volunteering to do more work whenever possible. That said, if you are so ambitious that you start to take away work from other co-workers, you might spark some animosity in the office.
3. Don’t Forget to ‘Suck Down’ as Well
Every employee wants to impress their manager, but you shouldn’t just suck up to that one person.
“You also have to suck down because you just never know where people will end up,” says Charles Purdy, a career adviser for Monster.com. “It’s very shortsighted to suck up to one person and not another.”
Just as you would with a boss, you should take time to ask anyone you work closely with how you can be most helpful to them and offer to go above and beyond whenever possible. The more people in your department who like you, the better your prospects at that company. As for those you don’t work closely with, you should try to be friendly and as generous with your time as you can be. After all, that person in the mail room might just end up being your boss one day.
4. Avoid Too Much Empty Flattery
There’s no sin in complimenting your boss’s new haircut, just be careful not to do it too much or it might get awkward.
“People like to be flattered, but empty flattery is cheesy. Don’t overdo it,” Pollak says. “You can tell when people laugh it off. Use your judgment.”
5. Don’t Overdo It on Facebook, Either
Sucking up doesn’t just happen in the office, it can also take place on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and the same rules apply.
“If you are friends with your boss on Facebook and constantly saying how cute her kids are or how brilliant her posts are, that gets a little creepy,” Pollak says. A better option is to use Facebook to show off a little bit of your personality and insight to impress your boss that way. Just make sure you’re careful not to share too much.
6. Rethink Your Position If You Aren’t Comfortable Sucking Up
Some bosses are more susceptible to shameless flattery than others. So if you notice your boss gives favorable treatment to those kind of suck-ups, you have two options: either play the game or don’t. If you choose the latter, it’s probably time to move elsewhere.
“If you work in an environment where your boss is swayed by that, then you are not in the right position, because you will not be promoted as quickly as someone who is willing to do that,” Purdy says. Just remember that wherever you go, you’ll probably still need to do a little bit of sucking up now and then.
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