When I was in high school I lost ten pounds. (I didn’t need to lose them.) I wasn’t noteworthy among my peers; we were all obsessed with how we looked and what we ate. And we were all hyper-critical of ourselves–and others.
I viewed other people with a critical eye. But that’s no way to live, as I (thankfully) came to see. I didn’t realize the harm I was doing at the time–to myself, and to them.
It’s much more pleasant to approach life looking for the good in others. Compliments are an economic oddity–they cost the giver nothing, but the right compliment is enormously valuable to the recipient.
Become the kind of person who notices the good in others–and speaks it. Master the womanly skill of the compliment. It’s so easy to do, once you have the knack of it. Here’s how:
1. Consider the context.
You can compliment anyone as long as you keep your words situation-appropriate. If you don’t know someone well, don’t embarrass them by paying an overly familiar compliment.
I had a nice chat with a total stranger at the pool Saturday. We started talking when she complimented my daughter’s bathing suit–an appropriate compliment for someone you don’t know. I’ll see Amanda by the baby pool all summer–but she’s no longer a stranger, owing to that simple compliment.
2. Be sincere.
The recipient will sense when you aren’t being honest. Hollow or backhanded compliments feel like criticism to the hearer. If you can’t be sincere, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut–because insincere compliments can do more harm than good.
3. Be specific.
I recently received two compliments at work an hour apart from each other:
Compliment 1: “I just want you to know that I think you’re a really beautiful person.” Uh, what? Maybe I would feel complimented if I heard this from my husband, or my mom–but from my coworker? Inappropriate, and a little creepy.
Compliment 2: “I really admire the way you handled that tense situation this morning with grace and tact. You’re good at staying cool and collected.” Why, thank you! Am I good at staying cool? Because I wasn’t feeling it at the time. That means so much to me!
Generic complements feel meaningless. But specific, personal compliments carry great value.
4. Focus on essence, not appearance.
“Cute shoes” or “nice purse” (or last Saturday’s “cute bathing suit”) work better as conversation openers than true compliments.
The best–and rarest–compliments go to the heart of who a person is. You can affirm a person’s very essence with a sincere compliment. Compliments like these are gifts: I heard someone just this weekend say he had chosen his career path because of repeated compliments he had received affirming a specific area of giftedness. That’s a compliment about his “essence.”
5. Be generous.
Don’t believe the line that compliments are more believable if you give them only rarely. If you’re truly focused on looking for the good in others, you won’t be stingy with praise. (And it will make you happier, too.)
And if you need help finding something nice to say, try this list.
Are you stingy or generous with praise? What’s the most memorable compliment you’ve ever received?