This is a guest post by Beverly Jones.

Company-cultureThe fear of looking like a brown noser is so powerful among professionals that sometimes they shy away from obvious opportunities to make a friend or pursue a goal. Among my clients, the people who seem to worry most about appearing sycophantic are the straight shooters least likely to be viewed as apple-polishers.


Do you avoid voicing sincere admiration because people might think you have a hidden agenda? If so, you’re probably overreacting. There are many times when offering a compliment is a smart and authentic move, and it’s wise to move beyond your fear of kissing ass. Here are seven situations when you should stop worrying about looking like a suck up:


  1. When you’re supporting a positive environment. Research suggests that people are more productive in a workplace where most of the comments are affirmative. If you consistently contribute to the positive culture by keeping most of your remarks upbeat, your praise will sound natural and colleagues won’t regard it as manipulative.


  1. When it’s a boss. Are you reluctant to say “good job” to the big boss because you don’t want to seem like you’re currying favor? Well, consider what it’s like from that boss’s perspective. Maybe she worked her way into this job because she’s the kind of person who is motivated by getting A’s. Now, however, if everybody is afraid to applaud her achievements she may start to feel unappreciated. It’s not healthy or wise when the whole team is reluctant to give a leader honest positive feedback. Stop being so self-conscious and allow yourself to be as nice to your boss as you are to your other colleagues.


  1. When you want to make new friends. As long as you’re not being untruthful or over-the-top, it’s OK to express respect or gratitude to a person you’d like to know better. Finding something nice to say is a polite and acceptable way of building a relationship.


  1. When it’s wise to avoid conflict. Some people are never going to be your friends but you have to find a way to get along with them anyway. If they are annoying, you may make things even worse if you indulge in complaints. If they are bullies, you may attract more torture if you let them see your pain. When you’re dealing with difficult people, a good starting point can be to talk yourself into a mood of relaxed confidence. Then look for the good things about them, so you can diffuse the tension with a compliment that is genuine and on target.


  1. When you owe them an apology. There are moments when groveling is justified. Like when you forgot an important deadline, or said something dreadful at the office holiday party. It’s OK to cringe and humble yourself when you want forgiveness for doing something truly wrong.


  1. When it would be kind. It is always appropriate to put people at ease or calm their anxiety, regardless of their rank or yours. If empathy makes you want to offer a flattering remark, don’t be put off by concern about how observers may judge your motives. And if you can’t say anything nice, maybe you really shouldn’t say anything at all.


  1. When you feel shy. When some people say, “I don’t want to suck up,” the real truth is that they are afraid to step forward. When you hesitate to speak up, look more closely at your motives. Do you actually think it would look bad or is it just that the thought of drawing attention to yourself gives you butterflies? It’s OK to be fearful. But make a smart, conscious choice about how you will respond to that fear.


If you honestly mean it, don’t hold back from offering praise or thanks just because cynics might criticize you.


Adapted from Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO by Beverly E. Jones, published by Career Press © 2016 Beverly E. Jones. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Beverly Jones, MBA, JD, PCC, leads Clearways Consulting, a respected executive coaching and consulting practice. Jones has led university programs for women and was also a Washington lawyer and Fortune 500 energy executive. Based in Washington D.C., Jones works with accomplished leaders in Congress, at major federal agencies, NGOs, universities, and large corporations.