3 Differences Between Sucking Up and Being Supportive

Getting this right will change the way you work and lead

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No one likes a suck-up, but everyone likes someone in their corner. Understanding this difference is one of the most important realities for both leaders and followers.

Everyone wants to think that they can tell when people are sucking-up or truly being genuine, but it can be hard to spot the differences, especially in our current climate today.

Business Insider recently shared that over the last few months, 18 major companies have announced long-range plans to continue remote work, many of whom have gone on to edit their policies for even later start dates.

People still aren’t spending time in person like they were before this pandemic began. Restuarant sales remain low and major events like concerts and sports games still aren’t back.

In a culture shoved rather forcefully into a virtual and isolated reality, it’s perhaps more important than ever to know how to spot the difference between when someone is being supportive or if they are just sucking up.

Before the pandemic, ABC shared a fascinating article on the difference between fake and genuine kindness. Said another way, the difference between being supportive and sucking up. According to their research, they broke down the difference in three core distinctions.

  1. Performative support which is rooted in insecurity
  2. Manipulative support which is rooted in sucking up
  3. Cordial support which is rooted in being overly sweet.

Dr. Matt Beard, writing for ABC, went on to say, that what each of these distinctions has in common with the other is that:

“none of them give the person who is receiving the support any agency, voice or respect.”

There is no magic bullet in relationships. If you build your friendships on false feelings and false words, you won’t be able to last in the long run. Sucking-up always has a way of coming back to bite you when you least expect it.

Dr. Beard went on to describe each type of fake support by saying:

“In their own way, they all use the object of support — as a way to keep up social appearances, to get something they want, to make people feel the way they want them to feel. These forms of support fail because they’re disrespectful.”

If you’re looking to know how to spot the difference between sucking up and being supporting, you should begin by addressing these three types of false support.

Performative Support

Shallow vs. Specific Support

General platitudes and vague congratulations are tell-tale signs of a suck-up. This is because general support is shallow.

If you only ever hear someone say, “Great job” or “you’re the best” or the one we say a lot in my office, “you crushed that,” you know that they aren’t really giving great support. They are using a form shallow praise to blend in with their surroundings, often to camouflage their real feelings.

Dr. Beard highlights how shallow support is commonly seen in attempts to placate other people’s pain. He points out that its easy to see someone else’s hardship and reply with something vague and easy, such as “I’m so sorry, I hope you’re doing OK. Please let me know if there’s anything you need.”

Having given shallow support, that person then feels free to go about their day without another thought.

“We express an offer of support we don’t mean and have no intention of following up on, clear our conscience, get all the social kudos of offering public support without any of the costs that support might actually require.” — Dr. Beard

Specificity is the easiest and most practical way to dislodge the temptation of sucking-up. It is much more difficult to suck-up to someone when you are giving direct and differentiated feedback and support. Specificity helps counter the way that insincerity tends to creep into our desire to support and truly connect with those around us.

When you dig down into the details to support or even praise someone, your brain actually connects that person’s actions with your desire to celebrate them, creating a bond of support that actually has roots, not just empty words.

Instead of saying, “good job today,” try saying “I thought the way you designed that presentation and the transitions you added were really great.”

When you give specific support, it shows that you paid attention. That you thought critically about the situation at hand and that you noticed something particular about that person, their performance, or their circumstance that you felt strongly enough about to step into and point out.

Manipulative Support

Convenient vs. Consistent Support

Everyone has a person in their friend group or on their team who is a bandwagon encourager. It’s the person who never really gives you any positive encouragement or feedback unless two or three other people are already sharing some kind words.

That is called convenient encouragement and it’s a clear mark of sucking-up.

Convenient encouragement means that people only support others when it makes the most sense for them to do it. In other words, they try to manipulate the situations they are in to maximize whatever perceived advantage they can find. They take find convenient opportunities for support and cast their

The CEO at HexGn, Jappreet Sethim, aptly described these types of people who practice manipulative support, when said,

“Getting and staying in the good books of their superiors (and friends) seems to be their main priority. Apart from being a shortcut, this also seems to them to be the best way of saving on effort.”

While saving on effort might be nice in the short term, most convenient efforts are rooted in manipulation. While people who dabble in manipulate support may believe they are taking a shortcut to the top, Jappreet goes on to remind readers of where this path truly leads.

You would do well to remember that they (suck-ups) rarely get the results they want.”

If you want to be supportive, you’ll need to counter the allure of convenient encouragement. You can do that by focusing on being consistent in your encouragement.

Encourage people when no one is looking. Encourage them on a Tuesday and Friday and any other day of the week. Encourage them in front of others and in private. Encourage them with texts, notes, social media. Find ways to drop small bits of encouragement into their life and find ways to encourage them in big moments.

Consistency drives authentic support.

Cordial Support

Egocentric vs. Edifying Support

It is very hard to be truly supportive of someone else if you base your efforts of support in your desires of reciprocity and recognition.

Ultimately, your support will always be veiled versions of sucking-up if your primary motivation for encouraging someone else lies in your own gain or growth.

That is what it means to participate in cordial support.

If your welfare is the core reason you’re being kind to someone else, you are sucking-up. This egotism can lead you to only support those you believe will help you achieve or add benefit to your life.

When someone begins to fall into a pattern of cordial support, they begin to think more internally than they do externally. Psychology Today notes that it’s very common for people to “act selfishly while they think that they are being caring.” When someone is cordial, they may believe that they are being caring and supportive but what they are really communicating is that they are more focused on their own good and not the good of the people they are claiming to support.

True support isn’t about you at all. It’s selfless, not selfish. True support is rooted in raising up someone else no matter what that means for you. It’s anchored in their growth, their happiness, and their emotional healthiness.

Forbes calls this kind of edifying support genuine generosity. Their formula for genuine generosity is as follows:

“Selfless intention + Sacrifice + Need = Genuine Generosity”

Notice that if you truly desire to show edifying support and push back against suck-up tendencies, you’ll need to pursue selflessness, not selfishness. This kind of support edifies and creates scaffolding structures in your relationships for additional support and growth. It makes you into a builder of people, not just a climber looking for the best hand-holds to scale the wall.

Aim higher

No one gets this right 100% of the time. It’s incredibly challenging to put aside our own motivations and egos and to take the time to notice and share specific, intentional support.

Sucking-up isn’t always malicious, sometimes it just comes out because we’re lazy and tired. Which is actually good news. You might have tendencies of sucking-up, but you’re not a suck-up. You can change the tide of how you support others around you. It’s just going to take some hard work and purposed practice.

Aim higher in your relationships. Seek to be someone who is specific with their praise, consistent with their encouragement, and who is selfless in their support.

Written by

Creative Engineer writing working hypotheses. Husband. Dishwasher. I write what I wish I could have read when I was younger. For more visit jakedaghe.com

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