Flattery — the Social Lubricant

Gentle Readers,

As you have been undoubtably aware for some time, this blog aims for audience with well above average vocabulary and IQ. You and your fellow readers are a very select group with strong interest in science and product design. You are scientists, engineers, and intellectuals. You have an amazing sense of style and fashion. You are able to see patterns and spot details that escape most of those around you. How do I know? I can see the strong engagement with the material on this blog — it’s all there in black and white numbers provided helpfully by Google day in and out.

Some of you might think this letter cynical. But all of you know that this content appeals directly your amygdala — you are as happy to be recognized for your brilliance as I’m for your continued readership of my writing. You all know you are special, and you want to be acknowledged as such by those around you.

And not only are you all above average, you are also extraordinarily lucky. Some might call this the “optimism bias”, but you and I know that your chances of success are much higher than the average Joe standing next to you. Odds are for losers, winners bask in their successes.

Some politicians try to peculate your look and attitude, but you’re too good for that. You can see through that kind of dishonesty even as you recognize that others, those with lower IQ, would fall victim to mirroring errors. But you also recognize the social value of such flattery — after all, not everyone can have it all.

In particular, you, my gentle readers, are quick to notice how ICT (information communication technologies) can be finely tuned to reflect the values of different cultures, using language and imagery to smooth out the virtual transactions, to create a feeling of camaraderie, to feed the need of everyone to feel special.

In a world where everyone is a writer, how easy is it to use flattery as a social lubricant? A smile from a pretty virtual girl, a hug from an artificial construct, a compliment from an online buddy… it doesn’t take too much effort to ensure that interface design has the right emotional tone for its product. Yet so many products fall short.

So thank you, my dear readers, for being the smartest and most perceptive bunch this side of the Internet!



Practical Advice

  • Always Answer: never leave a thread hanging — we all like to be acknowledged (at least to our existence). If someone sends an email addressed to you (or any other medium of personal delivery), or responds to a thread you’ve posted (on LinkedIn, Facebook, blog, or news paper), answer! It doesn’t have to be long, just a personal thank you and acknowledgement, even if you don’t think the person writing is of any use to you (especially then!). There’s never a need to cause anxiety by long-awaited or missing response.
  • Always Thank: I know that thank you notes are a thing of the past (it seems), but a short note of thanks is not only expected but mandatory, not matter how small the favor. A dinner, a recommendation, a lead, a word of advice, all deserve to be acknowledged with a personal thanks.
  • Always be Polite: as Mama always said: please and thank you and your freinds. But so is the tone of your correspondence. In particular, email is notoriously poor communication medium for tone and emotion. And people are great at reading into messages emotions and ideas that are simply not there, no matter how “flat” the actual content is. There’s a wonderful experiment where subjects are shown emotionless faces juxtaposed with food or puppies — the experiment subjects assign emotions of hunger and loving to these photos.
  • Always Strive for Culturally Appropriate: how many times have cultural bias or misunderstanding caused failure of communication? Too many! It doesn’t take long to do a bit of research to figure out not only a timely answer, but one couched in a right tone.
  • Always Strive for Empathy: especially in product design work, strive to understand what the users of the product really want from your design. And be kind to the errors that they will make.