Interested in becoming more likeable to everyone that you meet? It’s time to learn about a process called ingratiation.
What Is Ingratiation in Social Psychology?
Ingratiation is a social process in which people can relate on a personal level to others. Using the three methods of ingratiation identified by Edward E. Jones, a person can form positive relationships of all types: familial, platonic, professional, managerial, or even romantic.
Who First Studied Ingratiation?
Edward E. Jones, a psychologist who worked at both Duke and Princeton University, is considered the “father of Ingratiation.” In 1964, he wrote a book on this process. Ingratiation, to Jones, wasn’t just about finding ways to get people to like you. He wrote that “a more valid reason for studying ingratiation is that light might be shed on other common social phenomena such as the antecedents of group cohesiveness, the conditions of social influence and conformity, and the significance of social reinforcement in sequences of social interaction.” Each of the three methods of ingratiation defined by Jones relate to these phenomena in one way or another.
Why Is Ingratiation Important?
We all want people to like us, right? We all want to feel that we belong to a group of people that accept and welcome us. That is human nature. According to positive psychologist Abraham Maslow, love and belonging is a human need that we strive for after our physical needs (food, water, security, etc.) are met.
But how do we get people to like us? In preschool, this was easy. All you had to do was tell the person next to you that you also liked trains or naptime, and you had a loyal friend for life. Nowadays, things are more complicated.
You do not have to leave this up to fate. “Being yourself” is certainly important in all relationships, but you can be yourself while purposefully and intentionally behaving in ways that will make people more likely to enjoy your company.
As a person becomes more intentional with their actions and recognizes their role in a group setting, they will become more likeable and trusted by everyone in that group.
Three Methods of Ingratiation
In his 1964 book, Jones identified three methods of ingratiation: other-enhancement, opinion conformity, and self-presentation. Other methods of ingratiation have been identified since, but let’s focus on the first three.
“Other-enhancement” has another name: flattery. Complimenting or flattering another person can help you get into their good graces. Who doesn’t want to hear something nice about themselves?
Other-enhancement also directly contrasts from self-promotion, and this directs back to the significance of social reinforcement. If you just met a new coworker, you are going to want to know if you can rely on that coworker. You do not want a coworker who is only worried about themselves, will try to get a promotion before you, etc. If that coworker begins to compliment you and tell you that they are happy you are working together, your anxiety is likely to go away.
Example of Ingratiation Through Other-Enhancement
How does this work in everyday life? It’s simple. Let’s say you meet someone at a party that you want to impress. You let them know that you love their shoes, have read their book, or are really excited to meet them. That will get one foot in the door, and open up the possibilities for further bonding and conversation.
“Opinion-conformity” also has another name: agreement. Since the dawn of time, humans have had an “us vs. them” mentality. They trust the members of their tribe, and distrust the members of a warring tribe. Humans have always looked for ways to separate themselves from the “enemy,” whether that is someone from a differing tribe, religion, race, sex, etc.
Opinion-conformity shows someone that you are on their team. If you both agree on a certain political view, liking a band, or thinking that someone else is overrated, you are more likely to feel like that person is part of “us.” If you know someone will agree with you on one issue, you are more likely to trust that they will agree with you on other things. That kind of trust is reassuring.
Example of Ingratiation Through Opinion-Conformity
How does this work in everyday life? Maybe these opinions come up in conversation. Maybe it’s as simple as letting someone know that you hear what they are saying and you agree with their point of view. Ingratiation can be small comments or big gestures. The end goal is the same: to show another person that you conform to their opinion.
The last of the three methods, self-presentation, appears to have nothing to do with the other person at all. Self-presentation plays out in your attire, the way that you speak, or how you hold yourself while talking to others. If you want to be intentional about the way that you present yourself to someone, you should consider the other person. Does the person you want to impress care about designer brands? Will they be put off by swearing?
You may not intentionally wear a pair of Air Jordans to be in your grandmother’s good graces, but you may rock them at school to impress the popular kids. If you want to impress someone immediately, put some intention into your self-presentation.
Other Methods of Ingratiation
Since the 1960s, other methods of ingratiation have been identified. Not all of these methods are appropriate in every situation. Be intentional, yet careful as you think about bringing these methods into your everyday conversations and interactions.
Rendering favors is to “other-enchancement” as acts of service is to words of affirmation. Helping another person out is another way to prove that you are on their team. This could be as small as letting someone go ahead of you on the highway or as big as loaning someone a large sum of money when they need some financial help.
Modesty is another way to avoid self-promotion. By downplaying your abilities or accomplishments, you give another person more room to talk about their own. Plus, who wants to hang around someone who just talks about themselves all day?
Humor can get you in someone’s good graces, even if you have nothing in common. People want to be around people who can put them in a good mood and can make them laugh. Humor also shows people that you aren’t taking things so seriously. A clean, harmless joke at no one’s expense can make people feel safe. Who would be cracking jokes when a serious threat is looming?
Instrumental dependency, like modesty or flattery, speaks to someone’s own ego. This method makes a person believe that the ingratiator is completely dependent on them. Again, this method may not be appropriate in all relationships or situations. But if a parent, for example, were to believe that their child is dependent on them, they may feel better about being a parent and feel that they are fulfilling their role. People want to feel like they are needed, wanted, and loved.
Instrumental dependency and name-dropping were both identified as ingratiation methods in a 1984 issue of The Journal of Social Psychology. Nowadays, you may know “name-dropping” as a bad thing. Someone who is constantly name-dropping may be seen as self-serving – the opposite of modest or other-enhancement. But in the right context, name-dropping can coincide with opinion-conforming. If you admired Michael Jordan, and you met a man who said that he played basketball with Michael Jordan, that bit of name-dropping would seriously impress you.
Importance of Genuine Interactions
Of course, these methods are not a perfect formula. Overwhelming someone with flattery, agreement, or a good look will not guarantee that someone is going to like you. Everyone has the ability to make their own decisions about someone. A person’s perception of your actions may also make them back away. Consider this as you have intentional conversations with others.
Ingratiation should not be used as a way to manipulate others or hide your true self. You can easily be yourself while displaying modesty, humor, or complimenting another person. Be yourself, but remember that the people you meet are looking for the same things you are looking for: safety, security, love, and a sense of belonging. If you can offer those things to people, they will accept them and be more likely to offer them back to you.