The Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How of Paying Compliments—Secrets to Appreciating Those Around You That Uncover Shared Values and Strengthen Relationships

What’s the Right Way to Give a Compliment?

One of the most awkward yet most simple situations we go through as humans is paying compliments. On one hand, paying compliments the right way, and to the right person, can make the person’s day. On the other hand, doing it wrong can end up having negative effects, like offending the person being complimented or making them feel too self-conscious. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to read the room – briefly assess the situation before speaking and ensure that we do not say the wrong things. Giving compliments properly can ultimately strengthen our bonds and relationships with one another.

In this article, we address different factors surrounding giving and receiving compliments. We explore when to compliment people and how to prevent causing more damage, despite the best of intentions.  

Link Your Compliments to a Genuine Feeling

A compliment is better felt and appreciated when it is sincere. The person receiving the compliment feels understood and truly appreciated, which usually means they will most likely return the compliment with a positive remark or gesture. But the important question is, how do you ensure the comment comes from a genuine place? One way to achieve this is to identify a particular quality or action, which you truly admire in the person, to be complimented. The compliment should be authentic upon being said. The compliment should also be about values you personally appreciate or hold dear, values that you share with the person. This can unite strangers, or it can strengthen existing relationships. When compliments are clearly against your normal comments, beliefs, or habits, they are disingenuous and can, more often than not, be detected as insincere.

Identify Why You Appreciate Such a Quality in Others

You have identified a quality in a person and the fact that you both hold such quality with a degree of importance, but this link between you may not be fully understood. When this happens, think about why you appreciate such quality. For example, if you appreciate the methods by which a friend operates their business, you have already identified an action and quality in the person. Then, in order to pay a truly authentic compliment to that person, think of the specific reason why you appreciate the person’s business operations. Link both thoughts together and compliment the person in a beautiful yet specific manner. The more specific the better. This helps both of you understand each other better and can be extremely useful in future interactions. A proper way to pay such compliment will therefore be “James, I really love how you run your business because your employees have been trained to be so friendly and treat every customer with respect!” He now understands what about his character is clear in his actions, and you have now helped James see what values you prioritize over others. It’s a win win.  

Don’t be Hyperbolic

Just like every other aspect of life, too much is never advisable. The same applies for when giving compliments to people. It can be quite off-putting, when one tries to compliment you, but they are obviously trying too hard. You are left either being suspicious or being self-conscious.

The trick here is to keep it genuine and precise. When praise is gratuitous or hyperbolic, it makes the gesture cheap and empty. When you honestly and sincerely pay a compliment, it will carry much more weight, even if it’s a small one. So, after a party, for example, you may be overplaying it by telling your friend that they literally threw the “best party ever”. There is obviously no way to measure that. It will be better to stay sincere and specific. “I love how you introduced everyone at the beginning of the party. It made interaction flow better till the end.” That’s more like it. Can you see how giving compliments appropriately promotes a deeper understanding between people and what both people truly respect?

Use Adjectives Properly

When done right, even a seemingly superficial compliment can make a person’s day. A simple “your shoe looks good” or “I love your new hairdo” can indeed go a long way with a person. However, by digging deeper, we can always find attributes, traits, accomplishments, or personalities to compliment comprehensively.  

While we agree that certain compliments can go too far and send the wrong message, using the rich, contextual adjectives in paying compliments actually helps in driving the message home. The effects of a simple compliment can resonate more, by connecting it to an emotional feeling. Using the proper adjectives makes this very possible. So instead of saying a simple “I love your dress”, say “Your blue dress is mesmerizing, and I loved seeing it on you!” Instead of, ‘You did a good job in the sales meeting today”, say “You did an outstanding job in explaining those sales figures today!”

Compliments, Places, and People

We briefly discussed the importance of paying compliments earlier, highlighting the fact that it strengthens bonds between us, among other advantages. In this segment, we explore a few uses of paying compliments in specific aspects of our lives.

Compliments in the Workplace

The thought of spending almost half a day at the office can be enough stress on its own. You do yourself and your colleagues a lot of good by lightening up the mood every now and then, in any way you can. Starting the day by paying suitable compliments to your colleagues will at least give them a pleasant mind-set to start their day. It also tells that person what you notice about them or their work and the fact that you find those characteristics commendable. The most common types of compliments for the workplace are work or performance related, usually pointing out that an activity happens to be impressive. Again, the compliment should be genuine, deserved, and performance-specific. It is generally more appreciated when an aspect of their work is complimented, rather than just their looks or their personality. Also, high fives, fist bumps, and pats on the backs are a way of promoting camaraderie and a team-like atmosphere, which create a much more productive work environment in the long run.  

Complimenting a Romantic Partner

Paying compliments to a romantic partner, whether male or female, is almost an obligation between partners in romantic relationships. Being heavily emotional, loving bonds require each partner to take certain steps in uplifting their significant other, in order to make them feel appreciated and loved. Going by the methods of complimenting which we have addressed earlier, complimenting a specific trait or behavior in your partner signifies a deep level of connection with them. It demonstrates you have been paying attention to the positive aspects of your relationship and that you truly appreciate these traits. Ultimately, it greatly improves the level of communication between you and your partner.

Complimenting a Stranger

Finally, complimenting strangers happens to be the trickiest of all. While an unexpected but well-founded compliment can make a stranger’s day, it could also meet them at the wrong time, as you have no idea what they were going through prior to your meeting them. But there are certain situations where complimenting a stranger will most likely meet them well. For example, a talented singer on the subway station looking to get noticed by impressing a few strangers with their voice will appreciate compliments by passers-by to a large extent. When you come across a random stranger with a certain possession or attribute you admire, you may be hesitant to approach such a person at first (and for good reason, too.) But do not be afraid — which happens to be the first step. Make eye contact very briefly with the person and proceed to pay your compliments with a smile. Be as audible as possible (without getting weird), which will project a degree of confidence, assuring the person that you mean what you say. You’ll be surprised how quickly some strangers will become friends. While complimenting a stranger may brighten another person’s day, it will also make you feel great too!

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