Ingratiation Works---Most of the Time
A program of two experimental simulations provides empirical support for a two-dimensional model of consumer ingratiation and demonstrates differential affective and conative responses to an initial ingratiation attempts. Specifically, consumers’ perceptions of the sincerity and accuracy an ingratiation attempt influence consumers’ attitudes toward and intentions to continue a relationship with the ingratiator. In addition, customer perceptions of accuracy and sincerity interact such that the deleterious influence of insincere ingratiation attenuates when the ingratiation is perceived to be accurate (vs. inaccurate).
A primary goal of this research is to establish empirical support for the joint interplay of two, distinct affect-generating components of an ingratiation attempt—sincerity and accuracy. Whereas previous literature indicates that “other enhancement,’ a specific type of ingratiation (Jones, 1964), can be well received even if inaccurate (Drachman et al., 1978), the present research furthers our understanding of ingratiation by demonstrating the conditions under which this premise holds and provides groundwork for analyzing this two-dimensional model of ingratiation.
We provide evidence that only the sincerity of the ingratiation may be critical for liking. Participants who perceive an ingratiator's remark to be sincere are significantly more likely to indicate positive attitudes toward the ingratiator than those who found the ingratiation insincere—regardless of perceived accuracy. In contrast to previous studies, we find that, with respect to attitudes, accuracy is not critical. Genuine compliments and opaque flattery (friendly behavior) are equally effective, whereas smooth talk and transparent flattery (brown-nosing) are similarly ineffective. Thus, observers’ affective responses to ingratiation appear to center on sincerity. These results are consistent with the literature indicating that consumer suspicion (Main, Dahl, and Darke, 2007) and ingratiator motive (Friestad and Wright, 1994) play a large role in whether or not shoppers will like a salesperson. If consumers believe that a salesperson’s remark is motivated primarily by persuasion attempts, then they perceive them as less sincere (Campbell and Kirmani, 2000). When consumers decide whether or not to like an ingratiator, perceptions of the ingratiator's motive determines how much s/he can be trusted, and trust determines liking. Thus, genuine compliments and opaque flattery produce equally positive attitudes, whereas brown nosing produces equally negative attitudes.
In contrast, when consumers decide whether or not to continue a relationship with an ingratiator, consumers’ latitude of acceptance for insincere remarks appears to expand. We find a marginal interaction between sincerity and accuracy such that only insincere/inaccurate remarks significantly harm consumers’ intentions to continue a relationship. So long as the ingratiation is sincere or accurate, consumers indicate a willingness to continue working with an ingratiatory. Other important characteristics of the ingratiator, such as experience and expertise may be more important than his/her motive or attempt at flattery. This is consistent with Vonk (2002) found that participants expecting future interactions with an ingratiator were generally more positive about this person.
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