Dealing With Sycophantic Behavior At Work

Suck-up. Toady. Lackey. Back-scratcher. Brown-noser. Bootlicker. They go by many names, but they all resort to flattery and ingratiation instead of talent and hard work to curry favor with authority in the workplace, be it their bosses, team leads, managers, immediate supervisor, or anyone else with the power to help or hurt. Show them someone in charge and phrases like “Yes, I agree”, “you are brilliant”, “I love your shoes”, “Let me do that for you”, and “you are right”, spring to their lips, annoying everyone else within earshot.

As flattering or convenient as it might be for a manager to have a sycophant on staff, their modus operandi is venomous and their behavior can produce a toxic workplace, since a ‘yes-man’ who is quick to consent to everything a manager says, is just as destructive and incompetent as a disengaged employee who doesn’t say anything at all. Besides those ‘empty black holes of neediness’ failing to provide useful, honest, and valuable feedback and unique ideas that help the company grow and prosper, their behavior spawns gossip, leading to a low level of staff productivity. Not to mention, a suck-up puts a manager in an awkward position, raining down compliments backed by questionable motives.

So how can managers put an end to the behavior? If you have a sycophant on your team, here’s how you can go about it:

Evoke Reactions

As a manager, a great way to put the sycophants in their place is to create situations that evoke reactions in them. For instance, suggest an extremely lame idea in the middle of a meeting and wait to see how they react. A sincere employee would be quick to call you out on your absurdity, and put forth their honest views, without fear of retribution, whereas a timid employee will be quick to agree with you or keep their lips sealed for fear of rejection.

But a sycophant won’t just agree with you; they will go out of their way to appreciate your idea to no end. This is when you need to speak up and suggest that you despise their “yes sir” attitude. Say something along the lines of, “I’m not asking for you to agree with me. I’m asking you how best to put forward our plan. Please refrain from flattery.” The longer you ignore their behavior, they stronger they grow.

Stay Alert

Tread very cautiously around sycophants since you may become inadvertent victim of their flattery and gossip. These bootlickers know when and how to shower praises and will do anything to take advantage of even a momentary slip of your guard. Stay wary while talking to them. If they are pestering you, do not flare up, because it is not going to solve anything.

Keep calm, keep your head clear, and quietly go about your work. The key is to remain as emotionless and indifferent to their behavior as possible when you interact with them and cut across any attempts at flattery. Make them stick to the facts.

Withhold Your Own Opinion

Suck-ups will have a hard time knowing what to agree with when they don’t know what’s on your mind. Before you divulge the true picture in front of them or express your ideas or sentiments on an issue, ask for their opinion first. Allow them to elaborate on why they suggested what they did, let them speak their minds, and then proceed to tell them what you were thinking. Most will bite their lips to keep quiet, but some will be quick to change sides. Be prepared to remind them of what they said earlier and have a healthy conversation with them.

Let them know that you invite the truth, and no one will be punished for sharing it, and that they should stick with what they said. Let them know explicitly that you don’t appreciate sycophantic behavior and impress on them the importance of having their own points to validate or disregard something.

Periodic Assessment

One way to weed out the sycophants in your team is to conduct periodic assessment and review tests to examine your employees. The answers and reactions to those surveys will be a pretty straightforward determinant of what the sycophant among them is up to. Once you have determined the flatterer, assign them tasks that require genuine skills and acumen, and that cannot be handled by flattery alone. Eventually, he will begin to understand that his agenda is not going to work and give up on you.

Establish Boundaries

As an employer, you have an edge over your employees. From the very beginning, it is important to lay down firm ground rules regarding employee communication, speech, demeanor, appearance, and behavior. Be straightforward in stating that flattering seniors or exhibiting any kind of selfish attitude will be dealt with sternly. In essence, You teach people how to treat you. This will let them know that you are not susceptible to their empty praise and flattery, and that you will not tolerate it.

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