Compliments Considered

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a compliment as: “an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration.” Compliments are powerful. I’ve been conflicted over giving compliments in the past due to my fear of compliment inflation*. Thanks to my personality and self-regulation, I tend to regret more unspoken words than spoken ones. This is especially true of compliments. Conveying appreciation is so simple, yet it can be so difficult. I want to improve at this.

I strive to be genuine when I offer a compliment. If I say I like or appreciate something I want it to be true. For that reason I tend to be a bit too parsimonious with my compliments. Maybe what I really need is a system; a hierarchy of compliments. A 1-4 star scale? Bronze, silver, and gold compliments? (I suppose I could also have a participation award, or an A for effort award, to be used out of sympathy.)

A scale of compliments sounds ridiculous.

In lieu of weighted compliments I will strive to use descriptive and precise words of affirmation. This has been something I have thought about in the past, but not been particularly successful at implementing. Here are a few of my thoughts on approaching, constructing, and delivering compliments:

  • Be genuine. Stand behind what you say. Avoid trite compliments that are just delivered to be polite (good job being the chief offender). Pretend the person you compliment is going to stare back at you with a confused look and say: “why do you say that?” You need to be able to answer that question.
  • Be descriptive. Simplicity is a good thing, but explaining why something is liked or appreciated goes a long way.
  • Be aware. Many times the people and things most deserving of compliments are quiet, hidden, or overshadowed.
  • Be observant. Often things that are worthy of compliments might not be obvious. This is the idea behind the good effort or nice try compliments ubiquitous on athletic fields, which may or may not be deserved**. They follow failure. Compliments are appropriate in times when things do not go as planned, they acknowledge effort and character.

2 + 2 = ?

I bet you said or thought four. Good job! You have great math skills!

* I fear the days when a wheelbarrow full of compliments fails to communicate even the slightest hint of esteem.

** A serious source of aggravation to me is the bestowing of this encouragement for a weak effort.


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