I give out a lot of compliments. When I identify someone who is doing a good job I will tell them that they are doing a good job. The girl at the coffee shop who makes my coffee, a joke and me smile will get recognized for it. I’ll notice new hairstyles, engagement rings and changes in the look of vitality and comment about them. In doing this I’ve noticed a few of things.
First off, most people can’t take a compliment very well. They seem to play it down like it isn’t true and some are very successful at diminishing it completely. I’d be inclined to say that some of my positive comments have actually allowed people to feel worse about themselves. I do wonder why someone would tear himself or herself down so completely in response to something nice. I tend to think that it is because they believe that I’m not telling the truth because, in spite of what I say, they know that they are crap and unlovable. It’s really weird.
The next group is those who respond with suspicion. They’ll ask me what I’m selling or just throw a compliment back at me. I’m guessing they do this because they feel unlovable too. I clearly must want something from them if I’m going to lie to them. If they reciprocate the compliment they keep everything on an even playing field and will not feel obligated to me for the nice thing I said. Both are clear indications that they do not believe my observation.
The final group is those who respond with a thank you and are filled with a sense of gratitude. They take compliments well because they believe what I have said. They don’t question my intentions, they just assume that I am telling the truth and have noticed something about them that they want to be true. I regard these people as more complete than the others because they give in to the possibility that things are the way I think they are. They allow their feelings and understanding of the world to be impacted by the way I view it – they take something positive out of my kind words and they allow themselves to feel good about it.
If you are going to give out compliments be sure that they are true and that they reflect how you actually feel. For example, “I like the way your hair looks” or “the way you smile every morning makes me feel good” are better than “you look pretty” or “the other people don’t smile as much as you do”. I say this because you can easily defend and embody your feelings; it is a lot harder to back-up objective type statements – I am an expert on my own feelings so any statement I make that speaks of them is undisputable. If your new hairstyle makes me feel that you look more beautiful, you aren’t in a position to tell me that I’m wrong. It is very difficult to tear these compliments down without being offensive to the person who uttered them.
It’s also very difficult to automatically reciprocate the compliment because it won’t sound natural. I’m saying something that I’ve clearly been thinking about because I’m telling you how something made me feel – knowing your feelings requires at least a moment of introspection. If you automatically compliment me back the “when were you going to tell me that” question is unconsciously raised. This question changes the dynamic between the two people in a very real and unnatural way.
A good compliment is simply just an honest observation about something that you view as positive. It will be well received if it reflects what you actually feel, especially if the confirms something that the recipient wants it to be true. If they receive it well, you know you are engaging someone who is comfortable with who they are and that they trust that you are telling them the truth. Be sincere and make their day!