A reader recently emailed to ask about how to give and receive a compliment:
I recently found your podcast and have been trying to listen to past podcasts and take all your tips to heart. While driving to work I thought of this one that I seem to struggle with: how to take a compliment and how to give a compliment. Hope you can help.
Keep doing what you do, you are making a difference. PS—I just ordered your book.
Thanks for your kind words, Steve, and for your question about compliments. In fact, it’s so important that I am going to split my answer into two podcasts. I'll start with giving compliments because we all love to get compliments. They make us feel good and they don’t just benefit the receiver, they benefit you, the giver, and in fact, everyone around you. Here’s why..
Why Give Compliments?
A lot of research has been done on the effects of giving compliments. Studies have found that complimenting someone’s performance actually helps the brain remember the skills better. And people who are recognized for their efforts receive a boost in serotonin, which increases self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of purpose. This reinforces the behavior and further improves future performance. People who are complimented feel valued, appreciated, and more positive.
Obviously, all these good vibes help the person being complimented, but how does this help you, the complimenter? First, by deciding to compliment more often, you begin to develop the habit of looking for positive things, which in the long-run makes you happier. Your relationships improve with the people you sincerely compliment, increasing a bond of trust between you. And good relationships make work a lot easier. Finally, happier employees, or even family members for that matter, make everyone around them feel better, too. And if you are a boss who is known to recognize those around you, employees will all work harder to gain your appreciation.
So, there are many important motivations for cultivating a habit of complimenting people. But it has to be done right.
How to (and How Not to) Give a Compliment
A successful compliment doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be genuinely sincere. A fake compliment can be sensed a mile away, and it will destroy your credibility—not giving a compliment is better than giving an insincere one. And if you develop the habit of noticing good things, it’s easy to find something to compliment sincerely.
Oh, and be sure it doesn’t seem like you’ll benefit from giving the compliment. Yes, waiters actually get better tips when they compliment their guests, but employers and employees should avoid the obvious appearance of flattery for personal gain. Again, successful compliments are authentic.
Next, good compliments are specific. If your staff member just gave a great presentation, mention the best points. Saying, “Hey, great presentation” as you whisk by may be better than nothing. But it would be better to stop and say, “You did a great job analyzing the reason for the jump in sales in May. That should really help us replicate that next month.” That is going to make your staff member’s self-esteem soar! And you can count on a boost in performance.
However, a successful compliment is not overdone. If you were to go on and on, saying, “Wow, it was just amazing. I have never seen such brilliant analysis,” you’ll start sounding fake, and begin to make the other person a little uncomfortable.
Compliments: Short, specific, sincere.