Think about the last time someone you looked up to gave you a compliment about something you did or said that really matters to you…
Felt pretty good, didn’t it?
That’s the power of a genuine and effective compliment. Done right, compliments don’t just make a person’s day or keep a team together – they serve as a kind of interpersonal fuel that feeds people and actively grows them and the teams they’re a part of.
So, how do you do compliments the right way?
Get the “Why” Right in Your Head
This is where you make sure your motives are good – and you’re not overlooking any obvious blind spots you may have.
For example, you have to be careful when giving compliments to the opposite sex. In general, it’s probably better to stick with their accomplishments and character qualities they bring to the table, versus their looks or wardrobe choices.
For that matter, are you taking into account the authority structure in place? How you praise your business partner of 25 years will obviously differ from how you do the same for a young intern who’s been in the office for a couple of months. Of course – but why?
Part of it is because your position of authority and even age carry a lot of weight with the intern, even for relatively “small” matters. That makes both praise and criticism a somewhat delicate matter. Your partner, on the other hand… well, you’ve got a whole history of working together. Your true peers.
So you have to develop different ways of delivering your compliments depending on who you’re talking to – not just depend on a habit that’s familiar to you because that’s how you and your inner circle talk to each other.
Finally, make sure you’re actually focused on the other person’s benefit. Sure, it feels good to help other folks, and I guess there are times when you’re feeling down or stressed about something and you decide to get over yourself and go find someone… and give them a compliment. In that sense, you’re actively looking to build someone up in order to help get yourself out of a rut.
But even then, when you actually deliver your words to this person, it needs to be something that’s genuinely to their benefit. That way, you’ve turned your need to be helpful into a sort of “healing” for them and for yourself. But if you’re not careful, you could end up making yourself “feel good” – at their expense.
Consider How They Like To Receive Praise
Here’s a fun fact: people are different. And that affects how they like to be praised, including receiving compliments.
Some folks like to be praised, complimented, or otherwise acknowledged publicly. Doesn’t necessarily have to be on a stage at a major event, but they like for the group in general to know they’re appreciated. So a more public style of complimenting them may be in order.
Other folks, though, really do prefer these things to be more private, behind the scenes. The public style of being singled before their peers truly embarrasses them. With them, a more private compliment, or even a handwritten note, would likely be the way to go.
The catch? We tend to dish out compliments the same way we like to receive them! Which means we can unintentionally offend the very people we want to praise by treating them exactly how we would want to be treated. You may like to praise team members and friends very publicly, in a grand and open manner… but while that works for some of them, it may leave the others feeling a bit resentful or conflicted.
The solution? Just try to be sensitive to these issues. You mean well – and by taking a few moments to ask yourself if the person you want to compliment is more on the public or private end of the scale, you’ll be more likely to reach out effectively. The need to be praised and acknowledged is pretty much universal. It’s just that folks like to receive it differently.
Deliver the Goods
So, now you know where you are coming from, and where they are coming from. It’s time to deliver your compliment.
I’m sure whole books have been written about this, but here are a few concrete tips to do it well…
First, be specific. “Pat, you’re a great employee” is pretty vague. But this: “Pat, the way you handled that angry customer call the other day was fantastic. You upheld our company’s policy and vision, but still made the customer feel understood and appreciated. Well done” – is very specific. And therefore meaningful.
Next, make it count. In other words, don’t be patronizing by complimenting a person for something that’s just part of their job. In other words, expect your people to be competent, expect them “to show up on time.” Save your compliments for extraordinary accomplishments, for the unique contributions they bring to the table.
Finally, keep it short. Think about it: if someone starts to give you a compliment, and after 11 minutes they’re still at it… Wouldn’t that be a little weird?
You’d start to wonder if they had mental problems. Or more likely, “OK, they’re trying to butter me up for something. What do they really want?”
Fact is, saying too much for too long while giving a compliment sounds insincere. It comes across that way, even if it’s actually meant sincerely. It’s simply not effective.
So say what you have to say, simply and quickly. And move on. Better for them, better for you.
One of Those “Little Big Things”
Bottom line: giving compliments (and praise and acknowledgement in general) is one of those “little” things that’s actually a big deal. Most of us are at least OK at it. We have one or two go-to approaches that seem to work for us most of the time.
But there’s always room for improvement. And as we saw at the beginning of this article, compliments are really a great way to build people and teams up. They make a surprisingly large difference.
So take note of one or two strategies here – and put them to work. For you, and the people around you.
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