A car salesman in Detroit named Joe Girard sends out a photocopied, “I like you,” every three months to his prospects. His production is head and shoulders above the combined efforts of other top producers in his company. Girard is a master at making his prospects feel good. He sends more than 150,000 cards each year to his clients and prospects. The cards state “Thanks for coming in, I like you.” At first glance, this seems like a very manipulative technique sure to make your prospects suspicious, especially when the notes are often photocopied and unsigned. Yet success speaks for itself.

In an experiment done in North Carolina, people received compliments about themselves from others who needed a favor. Some of the individuals received positive compliments while others received criticism. Still others heard a mixture of both. Predictably, the praise-givers were highly liked by the recipients. But, surprisingly, this was still the case even when the subjects knew that the flatterer stood to gain from their positive evaluation. The praise didn’t even have to be accurate to be effective.

It seems Joe Girard was certainly on the right track. We are so desperate to receive praise and counter the abuses we get on a daily basis from those around us, we are very willing to believe anything as long as it is positive, even untrue. But, it may even be a good idea to be slightly critical to a certain point. University of Minnesota researchers discovered if people hear something initially critical followed by positive remarks, they are more likely to evaluate the person giving the praise in more favorable terms.

During the research, they made sure a woman was able to overhear two others talking about her. At first she heard slightly negative criticism, but then increasingly positive strokes flowing into glowing terms. The woman overhearing the conversation evaluated the person giving the criticism and praise as much more favorable than praise alone.

Do you find it tough to praise someone who doesn’t measure up to your high standards? Like your staff? Ken Blanchard, in his book, “The One Minute Manager,” recommends that we need to praise people approximately good. When people receive praise, they pay more attention to the activity they were praised for, thereby working harder to gain more praise. The same thing holds true for the praise you give prospects.

A couple of years ago, a life insurance salesperson evaluated my financial plan. He realized at the time that it was in quite a mess. Yet, after he criticized certain aspects of my plan, he praised me for several products I had personally chosen to include in my program. He also praised me for the budgeting of my finances and how well my business was running. It would have been very difficult to reject him since I was so caught up in his “praising” of me. It certainly is a good idea for you to find something in your prospect that you like and then praise them for it.

The suggestion here is to be candid with your remarks, but always spend more time praising your client’s ability than on the negative investment mistakes he has made. You can “hurt and rescue,” but make sure you make him feel good about himself in the process.

Kerry L. Johnson, MBA, Ph.D. is an author, a Senior Market Advisor columnist and frequent speaker at financial planning and insurance conferences. He operates Peak Performance Coaching, a one-on-one, fast-track coaching program. Visit www.kerryjohnson.com or call 800-883-8787 for more information.