A quote about flattery and insults on The Word Factory blog

Whenever I get an email or letter that starts something like "because I value your opinion as a bad-ass something or other", my eyes roll. Even when I know the person sending it--maybe because I know the person sending it.

Why does this rankle me?

Because it feels inauthentic, like you're trying to butter me up to get something. Which, of course, you are. The request is so contrived, however, that you end up putting me off rather than luring me in. If you were here in my office, I doubt you'd start your pitch that way. You'd more likely start it the other way round:

Hey, I want your opinion/action because you're great at this stuff/I know you'll tell me the truth/whatever.

Why Lead with the Ask

The difference: you lead with what you want and then add the flattery as a little extra incentive.

This might seem like semantical jousting, but there's something to it. By putting the ask first, you make it clear that this is a transactional conversation. With a tee-up like "because you're a/because I value", you give me time to wonder what's coming next and to form lots of opinions or just feel dread. The effect is I'm less focused on what you're asking and more focused on why you're flattering me.

There's an added impact when the missive looks or feels like a form letter. Like you've written a slew of people telling them exactly the same thing. Yes, you can respect more than one person for the same attributes, but--especially when you're asking for a favor--more personalized is better.

Hey, I want your opinion because, after working with you for 6 years, I know you give actionable feedback...

It's hard sometimes to ask people for favors, and if we feel weird about it. That's why we tee things up with compliments and stuff.

Action Steps for Asks

The next time you need to write one of these, here's your new process:

  1. Write out your pitch with all the tee ups and complimentary language you want.
  2. Add something personal for each person, even if you're doing a form letter.
  3. Revise it (using the inversion above or another technique) until it sounds like something you'd actually say to a person you actually respect.


Image from QuoteHD.