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Chapter 12

The Rule of Esteem -- How Praise Releases Energy


I can live for two months on a good compliment.


The Rule of esteem recognizes that all humans need and want praise, recognition, and acceptance. Acceptance and praise are two of our deepest cravings; we can never get enough. William James once said, "The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated." You can give simple praise to a child and watch them soar to the top of the world. We know how a simple thank you can make our day. Human beings have a psychological need to be respected and accepted. We need affection to satisfy the need to belong, we want praise so we can feel admired, and we want recognition to satisfy our need for personal worth.

In the persuasion process, it is essential to realize that people will act and behave in a certain way in order to validate compliments. If you present your request in a manner that compliments or builds up your listeners, they will be much more inclined not only to follow through, but to do so eagerly. Compliments have the power to change behavior because they make the recipient feel needed and valued. The individual now has a reputation to live up to or an opportunity to prove the validity of the compliment. Besides that, it's hard to not get along and comply with people who admire you, agree with you, and do nice things for you.

To use the Rule of Esteem effectively, you must clearly understand the relationships between self-esteem, pride, and ego.


Self-esteem is the elusive aspiration of most people. It is a confidence or self-satisfaction in oneself. Where does self-esteem come from? The people who are truly happy and comfortable with themselves are the ones who are able to live with and achieve what they want, not what they think others want. When people truly function in this manner, they are more pleasant to be around. They tend to be more generous, upbeat, and open-minded. They fulfill their own needs, but are careful to consider the needs of others. People who possess self-esteem are strong and secure, meaning they can admit when they are wrong. They are not unraveled by criticism. Their self-confidence permeates into all aspects of their lives: their jobs, their education, their relationships, etc. After an in-depth study, the National Institute for Student Motivation even rated self-confidence as more influential in academic achievement than IQ.[1] Other studies have shown that self-esteem even impacts your income levels.[2]

Unfortunately, several studies show that Americans overall do not enjoy high self-esteem. Two out of three Americans suffer from varying levels of low self-esteem. In one survey of child development, 80 percent of children entering third grade said they felt good about themselves. By fifth grade, the number had dropped to 20 percent. By the last year of high school, only 5 percent of the seniors said that they felt good about themselves. To some degree, we all suffer from low self-esteem in different areas of our lives, whether it's our IQ, our looks, our education, or how we look in a swimsuit. The short list of symptoms attributable to low self-esteem includes: inability to trust others, aggressive behavior, gossiping, resentment of others, criticism of others, inability to take criticism, defensiveness, procrastination, and inability to accept compliments.

There are two reasons why our culture suffers so greatly from low self-worth. First, media and advertising continuously show us how we should look, what we should drive, what we should smell like, etc. The message is that we are never good enough with what we are. We see images of grooming, fashion, popularity, and attractiveness to which we can never measure up. These images constantly remind us that we need to improve ourselves and that there is always someone better than us. Secondly, we judge and measure ourselves not against our own norm, but against some other individual's norm. But because we think, believe, and assume that we should measure up to some other person's norm, we feel miserable and second rate, concluding that there is something wrong with us.

How does self-esteem affect persuasion? Author Elaine Walster Hatfield conducted a study that gives us one example. She found that a woman who is introduced to a man is more likely to find him appealing if her self-esteem has been temporarily injured than a woman whose self-esteem has not been impaired. This explains the good old rebound effect whereby a person quickly finds herself engaged in a new relationship right after one ends, usually with someone whom she wouldn't date under "normal circumstances."[3]

Esteem is definitely among the very top needs on the list of all the human needs. When you're in a persuasive situation and not sure what to do, helping your prospect feel important is a fail-proof place to start.

[1]J. Maxwell and J. Dornan, Becoming a Person of Influence (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), p. 50.

[2]Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics (Los Angeles: Wilshire Book Company, 1960).

[3]E. Walster Hatfield, "The Effect of Self-Esteem on Romantic Liking," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (1965): 1.


Pride is the exact opposite of self-esteem. A prideful person gets no pleasure out of having something, but only out of having more of it, better or bigger than someone else's, or something that no one else has. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no lasting joy or fulfillment in pride. Peace and satisfaction will never come because the looming possibility of something or someone bigger and better coming along will always exist. One relishing their position at the top of the hill can never rest easy for too long.[4] Pride is a false sense of accomplishment because it is not based on true or pure motives. As C.S. Lewis observed, "Pride is a spiritual cancer; it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."

Pride is being secure in and taking pleasure in external things like possessions, degrees, influence, or position. People who have too much pride constantly compare themselves to others in an attempt to help them feel better about themselves. They love to gossip and pull others down. They are always concerned about who is right instead of what is right. They have a scarcity mentality that there never is enough for everyone. As Stephen R. Covey wrote, "An abundance mentality springs from an internal security, not from external rankings, comparisons, opinions, possessions, or associations."[5]

Self-esteem and pride are actually opposites, even though the terms are commonly thought to be interchangeable. Pride is usually a red flag for low self-esteem because people use it to cover their weaknesses and insecurities. People afflicted with pride usually have a low opinion of themselves. They often will bully or berate others to feel and manifest their own self-importance. With self-esteem, there is an internal security about who you are. You are fine with what you are and what you are doing. You like to help others and are not concerned with what people think. You like to lift others up and enjoy an abundance mentality.

Notice the comparisons between the two attributes:

External securityInternal security
Scarcity mentalityAbundance mentality
Comparisons to othersNo need to compare
Value in possessions or positionsValue in self
Tears others downLifts others up
Concerned with who is rightConcerned with what is right
[4]Stephen R. Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990).


The Ego

We all have an ego, and at times a very fragile one. We all yearn to feel important. The ego, or the individuality of each person, demands respect, wants approval, and seeks accomplishment. Deep inside every man and woman is a desire for importance and approval. This ego of ours can cause us to act illogically and destructively, or it can cause us to act nobly and bravely. When our ego is starved, we seek nourishment for it in any way we can get it. Feed the hungry ego and it will be more persuadable. This hunger is universal; we need our ego fed on a daily basis. We have to have an affirmation every day that our worth as a human being is still intact and that we are appreciated and noticed. After analyzing many surveys, Researcher J.C. Staehle found that the principal causes of dissatisfied workers stemmed from the actions of their supervisors.[6] Those actions included the following, listed in the order of their importance:

All of these causes are related to a bruised ego. This is unfortunate because studies show that employees are most effective when they are recognized for their efforts. Psychologists at the University of Michigan found that the foreman of a construction crew who is interested in the people working under him gets more work out of them than the bossy type who tries to force them to work harder.[7]

In an interesting study, school administrators sought to find the ratio of positive to negative statements overheard in the schools' faculty lounges. Thirty-two schools throughout the nation were visited. Now would you be more likely to assume that there were more positive or more negative comments? Negative? Well, you're right, but you may not realize how right you are. Researchers were shocked to tally up the statements and find that the ratio was 6 percent positive statements to 94 percent negative statements![8] This is certainly a startling result for those of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership.

When you find yourself in a persuasive situation, it is essential that you seek to enhance your prospect's ego in some way. Too often we present ourselves in a manner that instills feelings of threat, competition, jealousy, and mistrust. When enhancing someone's ego, be sure your praise is sincere and genuine. When we solicit someone's cooperation , everyone wins. For example, what happens when a sales associate tells a woman she looks great in the dress? The woman changes back into her original outfit and heads straight for the register! She feels great and the associate gets her sale. Or how about when the lady in shipping says she can really tell you've been working out? You do your "Can you tell?" expression, and then the next thing you know, you're helping her carry boxes. You get to bask in the glory of someone announcing that they think you look strong, and then you're extended the opportunity to demonstrate your power and might.

We can all learn from General James Oglethorpe's example. The general desired King George II of England's permission to establish a colony in the New World. Yet none of his arguments or presentations, no matter how carefully crafted, won the king over. At last, the general had a brilliant idea. He proposed that the colonies be named after the king. Suddenly, the general had not only permission, but abundant financial means and even people to help populate the new colony of Georgia.

There is a particular set of ego rules that should be employed when dealing with a superior. If you are trying to impress your boss, you should approach it differently from how you would handle an employee. Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents. Otherwise, you might accomplish the opposite of what you hoped for by inspiring fear and insecurity. When a student outshines the master, there is a blow to the ego. The master wants to appear more brilliant than the student.

Challenge to the Ego

Here's another very effective technique. Anytime someone challenges your abilities, especially your abilities to do your business, what's your immediate and instinctive reaction? To prove them wrong! Try politely expressing your concerns about your proposal and then watch the results. For example, if you said to a supervisor, "I'm not sure you're able to get those reps of yours producing, so I may hire a consultant." Don't worry, that guy will be on it, pronto! Or when you say, "You probably don't have the authority to pull this off," the prospect will make sure to show you that he does indeed have that power! When employing this technique, however, be careful to avoid damaging the ego. When you cause damage instead of producing a challenge, you will create an air of indifference from your prospect.

Another challenge to someone's ego is commonly used by sports coaches in a team environment. When during football practice a player is not putting in 100 percent, is late for meetings, or keeps making the same mistake, the coach has a perfect ego-based solution. He brings the team together and explains exactly what has happened with that particular player. He then has the whole team, except for the guilty player, run laps. This punishment is a challenge to the ego of this football player. Such a situation only has to happen once to be persuasive for each member of the team. Of course, the technique also works if the player also has to run with the whole team, but having him watch magnifies the results.

There are many challenging messages geared toward our egos. Think of a multilevel marketing meeting, where managers say they are looking for "go-getters" and "people who can take action." Or what about a teacher who tells the student, "I'd like you to do these advanced assignments"? I have seen sales representatives make a subtle attack on the prospect's ego when they were not getting the sale. They simply say, "I guess you don't have the authority to make that decision." You should see the egos take action! Another example is giving people credit for things they don't even know. When you give people credit for knowing something they really know nothing about, they generally will say nothing and allow you to believe them to be smarter or more aware than they really are. The catch is that they then will try to live up to the undeserved credit that you have bestowed upon them in order to lead you to believe they really are smart. You have heard such phrases as, "You probably already know. . . ." or "You will soon realize . . ." These are direct challenges to our egos.

Respond Instead of React

In persuasion, we are faced with the difficult task of building the egos of our listeners while placing our own egos on hold. In order to effectively persuade, you have to let go of your ego and focus on your objective. You don't have time to mend a bruised ego. Check your ego at the door and remember your overriding purpose. Focus on persuasion, not on yourself.

[6]Maxwell and Dornan, Becoming a Person of Influence, p. 43.

[7]Science Newsletter, April 16, 1949.

[8]K. Erickson, The Power of Praise (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984), pp. 79–80.

Ingratiation: Make Others Feel Important

Ingratiation is gaining favor by deliberate effort. Ingratiation techniques can include compliments, flattery, and agreeableness. Ingratiation can also involve a special recognition of someone such as, "We don't usually do this, but in your case I'm going to make an exception," or "I am personally going to take care of this matter and see that you get what you want." Many people consider ingratiation sucking up or brown-nosing, but it is an effective technique for making others more persuadable. The reason this strategy works is because The Rule of Esteem increases likability and promotes an increase in ego.

Research has demonstrated these conclusions about using ingratiation. In one study, "ingratiators" were perceived as more competent, motivated, and qualified for leadership positions by their supervisors.[9] In another study, subordinates who used ingratiation developed an increased job satisfaction for themselves, their coworkers, and their supervisor.[10] In yet another study, ingratiators enjoyed a 5 percent edge over noningratiators in earning more favorable job evaluations.[11] Ingratiation works even when it is perceived as a deliberate effort to win someone over. Our esteem is so starved that we accept any flattery or praise we can get.

[9]J. D. Watt, "The Impact of Frequency of Ingratiation on the Performance Evaluation of Bank Personnel," Journal of Psychology 127, 2 (1993): 171–177.

[10]S. J. Wayne and R. C. Liden, "Effects of Impression Management on Performance Ratings: A Longitudinal Study," Academy of Management Journal 38, 1 (1995): 232–260.

[11]R. J. Deluga, "Supervisor Trust Building, Leader-Member Exchange and Organizational Citizenship Behaviour," Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 67 (1994): 315–326.

The Leverage of Praise

Sincere praise and compliments can have a powerful effect on people. Praise boosts one's self-esteem. When you genuinely give praise, it releases energy in the other person. You have seen it and experienced it yourself. When you receive sincere compliments or praise, you get a smile on your face, your spirits soar, and you have a new aura about you.

Praise Others Daily

I think of all the funerals I have attended, and how all of them ended with beautiful eulogies. Why do we have to wait until someone is dead to say something nice about them? As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Every man is entitled to be valued by his best moments." Men will sacrifice their lives for praise, honor, and recognition. We crave and yearn for a boost to our esteem. We all wear an imaginary badge that says, "Please make me feel important." It is criminal to withhold our praise when we see someone, especially children, do great and honorable things. Yet then when they do something wrong, we jump down their throats. Have you ever thought about how we would never think of physically harming someone or depriving them of food and water, yet often without reservation we hurt someone emotionally or deprive them of love and appreciation? George Bernard Shaw said, "The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them." We should make it a habit to give genuine praise to someone every day. Don't wait for a reason or for something big to happen. Be generous with your praise. Praise makes others more open to persuasion.

How to Give Sincere Praise

Always be sincere. Even the most cunning flatterer is ultimately detected and discovered. Complimenting someone sincerely for something small is better than complimenting someone insincerely for something big and grand. If, instead of being constantly self-focused, we are attentive to others, we will always find building moments where we can deliver honest and sincere praise. Even Napoleon figured out that men will die for blue ribbons. Men will sacrifice their lives for praise, honor, and recognition.

Often it is more effective to praise the specific act rather than the person. This way, your praise is attached to something distinct and concrete. It is harder to be interpreted as flattery or favoritism when there is a specific and concrete thing you have praised. General compliments may have temporary effect, but can incite jealousy from others and create even more insecurity in the recipient because that person is often not really sure what they did to deserve the compliment. Then they feel pressure to live up to the standard you have set, even though they're not sure how or why it was set. They may even subconsciously fear that you will retract the praise because they don't know how to keep it. Things really backfire when that person feels mistrustful toward you. Did you ever witness coworkers gathering to complain after a "pep rally" with the boss? Instead of feeling inspired and motivated, everyone griped about how the boss was full of it. Of course, during the meeting, everyone played along, because it was their job and they had to listen. When a boss asks you to do something you do it because you have to. When someone has influence or is a leader you do it because you want to.

So how do you effectively give someone a compliment they can live up to without feeling anxiety? Instead of barking at your assistant, "Why haven't you finished these files?" say, "Thank you so much for helping me get these files done! I know I can count on you get them done in a timely manner." Because the latter statement incorporates your assistant's behavior into how you view her, you can be sure she'll follow through. Consciously or subconsciously, she will want to maintain the apparent image you have of her. Consequently she will continue that pattern of behavior so as not to disappoint you.

As a manager or supervisor, your responsibility to praise and recognize your employees is paramount. Regularly communicate the organization's changing objectives and priorities and show employees you feel they are important enough to be aligned with your goals. Invite new ideas from workers, stressing that there are always better ways to do every task. Trust workers by delegating responsibilities that give growth opportunities. Check with employees to determine what extra time or equipment they need, and work to provide them with these requests. Be fair to all. Playing favorites undermines morale. Praise each employee for any job well done; doing so orally is okay, but putting it in writing is even better. Want to know another plus? Sincere praise costs your organization absolutely nothing!

Effects of Praise

You know people are more likely to be persuaded to say "yes" when you make them feel good about themselves, their work, and their accomplishments. People will do almost anything for you when you treat them with respect and dignity and show them that their feelings are important.

I remember going to try on suits at the local mall. I was thinking about buying a suit but I was pretty indifferent about making a purchase that day. Because I knew the sales representative would want to persuade me to buy a suit that same day, I came in prepared for his persuasive techniques. He asked, "What type of suit were you looking for?" I answered, "Blue, double breasted." "What size are you?" he asked. I said, "I'm not sure." He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and asked, "Do you work out?" I said, "Yes, I do." He said, "I thought so. You will need a suit that has an athletic cut."

I smiled and felt the rush of esteem. I knew he was attempting to sell me a suit, and it worked. I took the bait and he reeled me in. It was something so simple yet so powerful. Yes, I did go home that day with a new suit.

An experiment testing the effects of praise on a group of men in North Carolina was very insightful. The men received different types of comments from someone who needed a favor from them. The comments were either positive, negative, or a mixture of both. As you might expect, the person giving the positive comments was liked the best. Secondly, this conclusion held true even when the men knew their "complimenter" was seeking a favor. Finally, unlike the other types of comments, pure praise did not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produced just as much liking toward the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true.[12] Strive to be sincere in your praise, although flattery works even when it is not sincere.

The following example shows the immense strength that praise has. At a small college in Virginia, twenty-four students in a psychology course decided to see whether they could use compliments to change the way the women on campus dressed. For a while, they complimented all the female students who wore blue. The percentage of the female student population wearing blue rose from 25 percent to 38 percent. The researchers then switched to complimenting any woman who wore red. This caused the appearance of red on campus to double, from 11 percent to 22 percent. These results indicate that when you favorably comment on behavior, that behavior will increase.

Praise can also cause people to change their minds. In another study, student essays were randomly given high or low marks. When surveyed, the students who had gotten A's tended to lean even more favorably in the direction of the positions they had advocated in their essays. Students who had received failing marks, however, did not stand behind their previous positions as willingly.

When we show people that they are important, we can persuade them to do many things. In elementary schools, teachers will dub a child to be the king or queen for the day. The king receives a crown and the other students write notes of praise. Children keep these sayings for years to come, proof that no matter our age, we crave praise, recognition, and acceptance. For example, Andrew Carnegie devised a plan to sell his steel to the Pennsylvania Railroad. When he built a new steel mill in Pittsburgh, he named it the J. Edgar Thompson Steel Works, after the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Thompson was so flattered by the honor that he thereafter purchased steel exclusively from Carnegie.

The greatest car salesman in the world sends 13,000 former customers a card every month that simply says, "I like you," and then signs his name. You can calculate the expense, but this is the backbone of his business. No one has sold more cars than Joe Girard.

Of course, there is an opposite effect that also lasts a lifetime. I heard a story of a young lady who wanted to learn how to dance. She went to take lessons but she was having a hard time. The dance steps were unfamiliar and awkward for someone who had never danced before. The instructor gave her a few lessons and then unsympathetically said, "You dance like a hippo. You will never be a good dancer." This one comment kept the young lady off the dance floor for the rest of her life.

One negative comment has more power than ten positive comments. I can give a lecture and have twenty people come up to me and praise me. But it is the one person in the front row, the one who had a sour face the whole time, whom I will remember. Just keep in mind that the use of praise affects the very core of our beings, so use it with caution.

[12]D. Drachman, A. DeCarufel, and C. Insko, "The Extra Credit Effect in Inter-Personal Attraction," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (1978): 458– 467.


Closely related to praise is acceptance. We all long for acceptance. We want to feel like our actions and contributions help an effort or cause. We want to be noticed by others. We all want to be someone of significance who is held in high regard. Knowing this, you can help your listeners and prospects feel that their help is appreciated, that they are personally accepted, and that their contributions are essential. When they feel accepted unconditionally, with no strings attached, their doubts, fears, and inadequacies will go out the window. Be kind, don't patronize, and be genuine in your acceptance — have it come from your heart. When that sense of belonging is established, you have tapped into a basic human need.

Have you ever watched a politician on the campaign trail? You always see it on television. Amidst the throngs of people, the candidate strives to shake hands and look into the eyes of as many individual people as possible. He wants his supporters to feel that their individual efforts contribute to the cause, that without their help, the cause would be lost. This personal touch boosts morale so that everyone wants to help out and will not rest until the candidate who reached out and shook their hand secures the victory.

Never criticize people you want to persuade or influence. It damages your relationship and destroys the connection you have with them. Instead, use praise and appreciation to increase acceptance and self-confidence. Many times an overly zealous boss destroys any possibility for loyalty and genuine compliance by telling subordinates why their ideas are stupid and will never work. Little does he know that these belittling comments will only make his staff cling to their own ideas and resent his even more.

One way to make people feel accepted is to offer genuine thanks. Seek to make a conscientious and deliberate effort to thank people. Don't assume they know you care and appreciate them. Don't make the mistake of thinking that a paycheck is thanks enough. One of the main reasons people are dissatisfied with their jobs is because they are never thanked or given any recognition for their efforts. It might seem unnatural to use thanks and gratitude, since most people were not raised in an environment where doing so was commonplace, but it's worth the effort to learn how to dole out thanks effectively.

Often individuals increase their feelings of acceptance by building their association with certain people, places, or things. This has been referred to as the Social Identity Theory.[13] For example, a sports fan may increase his self-esteem by plastering his walls with his favorite team's sports paraphernalia. Even though no one on that team has any clue who this Joe Schmo is, he feels better about himself anyway, just because of the association and identity he has created for himself with the team. Thinking back, why was it such a life-or-death situation to belong to social groups in high school? A sense of belonging is even more important to us as adults. Whom you know and what you have are in direct correlation to your self-esteem and acceptance.

[13]M. Tesser, Advanced Social Psychology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995).

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