06/21/2010 04:27 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How to Suck Up

DEAR E. JEAN: I recently turned to your column archive at to find what you suggest for getting promoted at work because I can't seem to catch a break in my career! But I question your advice to "suck up."

What if I'm diametrically opposed to sucking up? Does that mean I'm doomed to the lower ranks even though I'm talented, professional and hard-working? Doomed because I refuse to be a fake kiss-ass? Really? When did actual skills and integrity become passé? Why should I have to suck-up or suck-it-up to get ahead? Between you and me, the only thing that sucks is your advice -- Miss Integrity

MY IRRESISTIBLE MONOMANIAC: Now, now. A straight-shooter such as yourself must know the difference between a nutball "kiss-ass" who clasps her hands, dribbles out one side of her mouth and moans at her boss "I love your shoes!", and a talented, plucky, determined, frank young woman who pokes her head in the boss's office and says "Miss Thompson, you just hit one out of the park!"

If you lack "the old oil" (the great P.G. Wodehouse's phrase for "smoothing the way") no matter how many "skills" you possess, your career will likely be exterminated before you begin.

Sucking up causes your co-workers and bosses to feel razor-sharp and valued, and when they feel razor-sharp and valued, you can win them to your point of view, and when you win them to your point of view, you can accomplish great things for yourself and mankind. Here's how to apply the old oil:


1. Do NOT be covert about it. Be upfront, be candid. You don't have to stagger and collapse to the floor but when one of your co-workers,' subordinates, or bosses' makes a particularly smart move, tell them why you're impressed. (Watch any Arianna Huffington interview to get the hang of this.)

2. Do NOT go on and on. This is my own hideous sin. I possess such over-the-top empathy I can't shut the hell up. I slather people with my admiration till they run from the room. Don't do this. Laud the little bastards and move on.

3. Do NOT extol every damn thing. A shake of your head accompanied by a look that says "oh-my-god-you-did-it-again!" can covey your compliments with as much élan -- and more truth -- than words.

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