The art of kissing ass, otherwise known as il-mujamaleh or haz dannab or maseh joukh, is not an exclusive art to the Jordanian landscape, but rather a worldwide occurrence. However, when it comes to Jordan, it is indeed elevated to an art form. Why? I have my theories. One of which is based on what I believe to be low self-esteem, which is quite common in Jordan. People feel they need to compensate for what they lack – be it skills, education or just plain old value – and thus what takes its place is the mujamaleh. I trust this theory the most as I have often put it to the test and discovered that the lower one’s self esteem and the less skills they appear to have and the less value they appear to posses, the more the mujamalat; the more kissing of ass. The most common-place setting is in the public sector. Especially small-level government bodies. But, like the rest of the world, it is not merely a compensation mechanism, but a device used to gain something. Someone wants something for themselves that they know they could not get it on their own, by the use of their own skills and talent.
The reason I bring this all up is not to attempt to analyze a social habit, which I’ve attempted to do before, but rather place it in a specific context. That context is business.
I will admit right off the bat that I have never been someone who got on board with this art form, and I attribute that fact directly to my upbringing, which took place far from these desert shores. I am physically and mentally incapable of uttering insincere flatteries, and 99% of all flattery in Jordan is insincere – more so in the business context, when someone is doing it specifically for personal gain. That inability has allowed me to have finely tuned senses to the Jordanian mujamaleh – like a blind man who can hear twice as better as anyone else in the room. I can see the bull crap flying past me from across a crowded room.
Where it gets interesting is when I see it uttered by my generation. 20-something year olds who have had this art passed down to them by their forefathers, can carry it forward like a sacred torch.
And the most interesting part is when it is used by would-be entrepreneurs. There is nothing more animalistic than observing a young entrepreneur crawling through the high grass of a conference room, scavenging for big names and VIPs, someone to latch on to and then flatter the heck out of. If they manage to secure a 2 minute conversation with such a class of person, they will brag about the encounter as if they were lifelong friends. It is part hilarious and part sad, with a hint of disappointing, just to see 20-something year olds waste so much time and energy on flattering people who either are so accustomed to it that they would be undeserving of their current statuses if they made it this far without a finely tuned sense of the bull crap.
The phase itself is a difficult one. 20-something, got a good idea, something even, perhaps, a bit investment worthy. The desire to get in to that small, small circle of elites, who smoke cigars, wear cuff links and drink white wine. It’s a sacred ritual. The need to hinge on to those attributes like they were the only thing that defined entrepreneurship. Rest assured, they help lubricate the flattery process. The clothes, the accessories, are all little weapons in the arsenal. But the AK-47 of that very arsenal remains the tongue and the willingness to let it loose in all forms of poetry and prose designed to appeal to the highest common denominator.
I often wonder how the older generation perceive it. Again, I’m sure they’ve grown accustomed to it, but how is it received? With arms wide open, or with cautious disapproval? To an extent, I see that flattery does open doors. But these are doors that I, personally, would never enjoying walking through. For if you’re trying to gain favor with someone who enjoys flattery, they are probably not worth the investment.
But this is besides point.
The point here is to spell out a message to 20-something year old, would-be entrepreneurs – and it may be the only piece of advice I have for such a group. And that would be: add value.
Forget about flattery. Those are the ways of your father and his father, maybe even your tawjihi failing cousin. Flattery is indeed an art, and you shouldn’t build a reputation for yourself as an artist. It is the paint-by-numbers of charisma.
Add value. Offer something of value to the world. Contribute with value. Give people something they will see real value in, and thus want to invest in. Not necessarily financially. No, not at all. Relationships are built and maintained based on value. The people you want on your side, the circle you’re trying to get in to, the party you never got an invite to – well those people are often in search of someone or something of value. Don’t sell an idea like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, or even sell your ego. Both have little to no value whatsoever. In my experience, tell a story. Stories have value, because it aims to describe to someone why something is important to you. Why it has value to you, and thus, why it should have value to them and for others. Don’t tell them how much you admire them and their company, and go on and on about them and their company. You might see flattery working in some cases and thus believe that only through such faked pleasantries can success be harnessed, but those who do make it through are the boy bands of the industry; they’re a hit for a while and produce everything-friendly music, but in a few years they will have faded in to obscurity having left nothing memorable or of value behind. In other words, forget about the Backstreet Boys (if you haven’t already done so) – think U2.
So to the 20-something year old, go-getter entrepreneur who should happen to find him or herself face to face with someone they deem to be of importance – avoid flattery. Offer them value instead. Tell a story. Having something worth adding to the conversation.
And to the upper echelons of power in the Arabian business world, I implore you to sidestep the young entrepreneurs who may approach you with a wide smile and a series of pleasantries spinning frantically off the tip of a tongue. This is the last thing our region needs right not; investing in people who have little value to offer beyond the confines of a mujamaleh.