The 12 Characteristics Of Great Compliments

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“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

-Mark Twain

 

Have you ever given someone a compliment that fell on deaf ears?

I know I have.

Not all compliments are created equal. There is a right way and a wrong way of giving them, and many of us don’t know the difference.

When you receive a great compliment, you feel absolutely incredible, as though all self-doubt just melts away.

That is the effect you want your’s to have.

After my recent guest post on TinyBuddha, I got an email from a reader named Karen who told me that my writing made a difference in her life.

Man, was I beaming after that. It happened a couple days ago and I still feel wonderful because of it. Thanks Karen!

And as I was writing this post, I got an email from Yuri saying that she found my writing “fresh and sincere”. There’s hardly a nicer thing that someone can say, since that’s exactly the effect I’m going for!

I know you’ve received a compliment before that made you feel the same way. Don’t you want to spread the love and give that feeling to others?

After reading this post, you will be armed with everything you need to know in order to deliver that perfect compliment.

 

Benefits Of Giving Good Compliments

Compliments should come from a place of genuine desire to make other people feel better.

But that doesn’t mean that you, the giver of the compliment, don’t get anything out of it. In fact, praising others has many benefits.

Meet New People

Complimenting a stranger is a great way to open up a conversation and make new friends.

“But Mike, I already have 2183 friends on Facebook!”

Well, good for you.

How many of those people do you have a real connection with?

Compliments make other people feel good, and then that person associates you with that feeling. This makes them a great way to bridge the gap between stranger and friend.

Improve Your Relationships

This point is obvious, so I won’t spend much time on it.

Praise is an important part of the relationships you have already established. When you say nice things to your friends, they like you more for it.

Duh.

Makes You Happier

It feels great to give compliments. Sure, if you force yourself to say something nice, you may not be any happier. But when you truly feel that someone deserves a compliment and you give it to them, you become happier.

Why might this be the case?

I have a few theories, but ultimately I think it stems from a feeling of congruence between your thoughts and your actions.

If you think highly of others and express those feelings, it makes the positive thoughts stronger. Stronger positive thoughts means more happiness for you.

Builds Self-Esteem

Sometimes complimenting others can be challenging.

It takes a certain amount of cojones to go up to someone and say something nice about them. By actually doing it, you show yourself that you have what it takes to impact the lives of other people.

On top of that, a genuine compliment involves noticing the good in other people. As you become more proficient in finding positive aspects in other people, you get better at seeing positive aspects of yourself.

This is a simple matter of practicing the art of giving compliments regularly.

Make Someone Else’s Day And They Might Make Your’s

Of course, your compliment isn’t intended to make you feel better; it is supposed to make someone else feel better.

But when you make the people around you happier, you can get some pretty sweet side benefits.

Hairstylists compared the tips they got when they complimented their customers versus when they did not compliment them. In this study, tips were significantly higher when the hairstylists used compliments1.

I don’t recommend dishing out praise with the expectation that it will pay off.

But it might.

 

The Mindset You Need To Deliver Effective Compliments

While the art of giving compliments is primarily about action, we can’t ignore the role that a proper mindset plays.

I’ve already alluded to the most important aspect of this mindset: looking for the positives in other people. If you don’t like people, you aren’t going to compliment them.

This is obvious when you consider the extreme case of a socially withdrawn individual who hates everyone. But it’s equally true for you.

The more you like about other people, the more opportunities you have to compliment them. It’s not about being outgoing, it’s about being positive.

Right now, I want you to think about your best friend. What do you like about this person? What makes them so awesome in your mind?

I’ll bet there are a million things to like about them. If there weren’t, they wouldn’t be your best friend!

But it’s not just them; everyone has good characteristics about them. You just need to open yourself up enough to notice.

From now on, make it a point to find at least one good thing about anyone and everyone who you interact with.

You don’t need to compliment them (but why wouldn’t you?), you just need to feel the positive emotions that come with actually liking another human being.

Reframing In Your Relationships

I’ve found cognitive reframing to be an invaluable technique for this. To reframe an experience is to take a situation and interpret it in a new light.

Even if you didn’t like someone before, you can reframe your experience with them in a positive way in order to find the good in them.

I’ve written an extensive post on the subject of reframing. I suggest you take a look at it, learn the technique, and immediately begin applying it to your relationships.

What Do You Like About Being Complimented?

A second technique to further develop this mindset is to start paying attention to the compliments that you receive.

Take note of the praise that others give you. Some compliments make you feel better than others.

What is it about certain compliments that makes you feel so great?

After putting a little bit of thought into this question and doing your research (aka receiving praise), you will notice patterns or characteristics of truly great compliments.

Chances are many of these characteristics are the same ones that make other people appreciate your compliments.

Later in this post, I will go over a few of these characteristics. But they are far more powerful when you discover them for yourself.

But before I get into that, there is one controversy about compliments that I must address…

 

Spontaneous Versus Well Thought Out Compliments

While doing research for this article, I found that people who have written about this subject can be divided into two camps: those who think compliments should be spontaneous and those who think you should plan them out.

Which side is right?

The answer, of course, is that both sides have their pros and their cons.

Spontaneous compliments tend to be more genuine, but you run the risk of inadvertently offending someone or of not getting the most bang for your compliment buck.

Planned compliments allow you to say exactly the right words, but can come across as artificial or have poor timing.

The solution is to develop the skill of delivering a good compliment. Over time, you’ll get a feeling or intuition for what is the right thing to say at what moment.

Both styles will work in different situations. As a rule of thumb, you should say what you have to say when it feels right to do so.

You will make mistakes, but as with any skill, you will improve as you do it more often.

 

The  12 Characteristics Of Effective Compliments

“But Mike, everything you’ve said thus far is so abstract! How can I apply this information right now?”

I’m glad you asked.

The information above provides the necessary context for the tips that follow. Please do not ignore this context.

Now, let’s get to it. For each of these characteristics, I’ve tried to be as clear as possible and I’ve provided examples of good and bad compliments to help clarify even further.

Note: These example compliments aren’t necessarily good or bad on their own. They are included in order to demonstrate the characteristic that I am describing.

If you find anything confusing, please let me know and I will try my best to address it.

1. Be Genuine

Above all else, a truly effective compliment is a genuine one.

Only praise someone if you think they actually deserve it.

People can tell when you are being genuine, and they appreciate it. Conversely, there are few things more agitating than to receive a dishonest compliment.

Back in the day, I played little league baseball. And I was terrible at it.

There is one game in particular where I remember striking out a couple of times, only to have my Mom tell me about how fantastic I had played. I wasn’t stupid, and I knew it was a lie.

Of course, she meant well and I appreciate that now. But at the time, it made me feel horrible about myself because it only drew more attention to my flaws.

A part of being genuine is not using hyperbole. In other words, don’t exaggerate.

Bad: “This is the best green bean casserole I’ve ever eaten!”

Good: “You cook a delicious casserole. I really enjoyed it!”

A genuine compliment is not given with the expectation of getting anything in return. You are simply saying what needs to be said at that moment.

Bad: “Nice shoes, wanna f***?”

Good: “Those shoes look great on you! Where did you get them?”

2. Be Specific

As a master complimenter, you must pay attention to detail.

Giving a general compliment isn’t always a bad thing, but being specific is always better.

A general piece of praise just doesn’t mean as much to anyone as a more detailed one. By pointing out a specific aspect of another person, it shows that you have taken real interest in them.

You have taken a real interest in them, right?

Bad: “I like your style.”

Good: “That’s such a cool ring you are wearing! It really complements your whole style.”

3. Be Unique

This is related to being specific, but it goes a bit deeper.

Some people receive the same compliment a lot. Beautiful women hear the same thing about their looks every day. Telling them they have beautiful eyes, while specific, won’t do much for them.

Instead, tell them something they have never heard.

This requires an extreme amount of attention to detail and again, a genuine interest in the other person. Being unique is a challenge, but it will set your compliment apart and give it way more impact.

Bad: “You have beautiful eyes.”

Good: “That bracelet you’re wearing matches your eyes perfectly! Did you do that on purpose?”

4. Acknowledge Their Effort

Chances are good that it took some effort for the other person to achieve whatever it is you are complimenting them on.

They will like your compliment even more if you acknowledge that effort. It shows that you appreciate what was going on “behind the scenes” to make it happen.

Bad: “You have a great figure.”

Good: “You have a great figure. You must have an impeccable diet and exercise routine!”

You can also acknowledge the character traits that must have been necessary to achieve their results. This has a similar effect.

Bad: “I like your artwork.”

Good: “I like your artwork. You’re clearly a very creative person.”

5. Describe The Effect Something Has On You

While praise is ultimately about the other person, they must have had some effect on you in order for you to notice it.

People like hearing about how they affect others. If you let them know that they have positively impacted you in some way, it will make them feel better.

Bad: “You are a great writer.”

Good: “Your writing really inspired me. Because of what you wrote, I’m going to start exercising again.”

6. Use Emotional Or Descriptive Language

This is an important point, but if you don’t have a way with words, you shouldn’t let it stop you from complimenting others.

If you can, however, I recommend using more emotional or descriptive language. You aren’t trying to impress them with your knowledge of SAT words, but there is no doubt that certain words have a stronger effect than others.

Bad: “You look really good today.”

Good: “You look absolutely stunning today.”

Remember to be genuine though. If you exaggerate too much, your advanced vocabulary will backfire.

7. Don’t Be Backhanded

Oftentimes, people will give compliments that make the other person feel worse about themselves.

Don’t do that.

A compliment should be entirely positive, and should leave no room for a negative interpretation.

Backhanded compliments usually involve making some kind of negative comparison. This is best demonstrated through examples.

Bad: “You’ve lost so much weight, and you look great!”

Good: “I’m impressed at your dedication to health.”

Bad: “Nice nails, are they real?”

Good: “I love your nails, they look so classy.”

8. Don’t Wait For The Perfect Moment

Sure, the timing of your compliment is important. But the perfect moment will never come.

The worst thing you could do is try to “manufacture the moment”. Nothing could be less genuine.

What does this mean?

When you manufacture a moment, you are performing some kind of social maneuver in order to make your compliment fit a context.

For example, you might really like the other person’s ring. After noticing the ring, you deliberately steer the conversation towards jewelry.

There is nothing wrong with talking about jewelry. But you should first give the compliment, and then use that as a transition into a conversation about jewelry. It is much more authentic that way.

Remember, you should let your compliments flow organically. It should feel like the right thing to say at the moment, or like something that just had to be said.

You will improve the timing of your compliments with practice.

9. Don’t Second-Guess Yourself

Own your compliment.

Whatever you have to say, say it like you mean it.

You do mean it, right?

If you are wishy-washy about it, your compliment will completely lose its effect.

This is a common problem when a man compliments another man, particularly if it is about their appearance.

A lot of guys think that if they compliment another man on their looks, they will seem “weird”.

There is nothing weird about telling him that his shirt is awesome or that you’re impressed at their bench press.

Don’t worry about what other people think. Just say what needs to be said.

10. Be Concise

A good compliment should not take long to say.

If you add too much explanation to it, you dilute your message. This isn’t just true of compliments, but of communication in general.

Bad: “I really like your dress. The color is perfect for your complexion. I saw a dress like that once and I wish I had bought it. Total mistake on my part. Tomorrow I should go back and get it…”

Good: “I really like your dress. The color is perfect for your complexion.”

11. Pause For Effect

After saying what you need to say, stop for a moment.

Give it a moment to sink in.

It’s not as though your compliment should be a conversation stopper; nothing could be further from the truth.

But you don’t need to immediately launch into another thing just because.

This is similar to the advice of keeping your compliments concise. The idea for both is that you want the other person to actually hear what you have to say.

If you don’t pause, you risk having your compliment get lost in the conversation.

12. Don’t Expect Anything In Return

Sometimes we compliment others because we want to get something back from them.

This is a bad place to be coming from.

Remember, the compliment is for them. You shouldn’t be saying it because you want to get a compliment in return.

Besides, if they give you a compliment right after you give one to them, theirs will probably seem less genuine to you. It won’t feel as good as if you let them compliment you on their own.

Similarly, don’t expect a “thank you”. You’ll probably get one, and you probably deserve it. But it’s not necessary, and you shouldn’t be expecting it in advance.

Say what needs to be said, and then move on.

 

Conclusion

There was a ton of information in this post, and you might be feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps you even feel like all of this makes dishing out compliments even more complicated and intimidating.

Don’t.

You should consider all of the above as guidelines, not as hard and fast rules.

The most important thing to remember is that you should take an active interest in genuinely appreciating other people. If you can do that, the rest will follow.

So go out there and start complimenting other people, right now. Compliment the next person you see. You’ll only get better as you practice.

Please share this information with others. Sure, you can tweet it or give it a thumbs up, but the best way to spread it is simply to follow these guidelines and start giving out genuine compliments.

Do you have any other advice on how to give great compliments? Share them in the comments section.

 

Footnotes:

1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2007.00247.x/abstract

photo by: vavva_92

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Comments

  1. Flight of the Conchords people should read your column
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u08_0EaE_zU

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