The Secret To Giving Meaningful Compliments

Compliments can be a great way to express your admiration and appreciation for others. They can feel really good to give or receive, but other times they can feel slightly awkward. And how can you show someone you're sincere?

December 21, 2015
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Compliments can be a great way to express your admiration and appreciation for others. They can feel really good to give or receive, but other times they can feel slightly awkward to give or receive. How can you show someone you’re sincere? And how can you express the depth of your gratitude without minimizing your sentiments or without overwhelming the other person? Giving praise that is truly meaningful must go beyond the generic. Here are some ideas to praise what really matters and to deepen your connection with a loved one.

When it comes to complimenting others, I challenge you to look beyond the exterior.

There’s nothing wrong with telling your cousin you love her new haircut or complimenting your friend’s new car. However, I’ve found in my own life and those of many of my clients that the praise that sticks (in a good way) focuses on character traits and personal things. It’s easy to see the big accomplishments–like starting a business, finishing a college degree, or getting married–but it’s important to also look for things that aren’t as obvious, or the intangibles. This is only possible through a more intimate connection with someone and may also take a little more work to articulate, but ultimately these kinds of compliments can be incredibly powerful. Maybe your friend is a really good listener or your co-worker handled stress with grace. Don’t be afraid to bring attention to the internal things about someone that impress and inspire you.

Another idea for giving meaningful praise is to focus on effort.

This may go against what we commonly think. Some may be conditioned to believe that complimenting effort (versus accomplishment) is pity praise. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Remember that effort is the one thing we can always control. We can’t always control the outcome, but we can choose how much we devote to achieving something. So by praising wholehearted effort (particularly with children), we are praising someone’s choices (and I can’t think of a better compliment than that!) This may be even more important than complimenting an individual’s qualities. For example, saying, “you’re so smart” may not be as effective as saying, “you really pushed and gave it your all in that project.” If noticing effort builds a child’s self-esteem, think what it could do for adults (since we’re really all just a bunch of big babies!)

Sometimes we think we need a big reason to celebrate someone in order to offer a sincere compliment. An award, a career accomplishment, or the purchase of a new home are all very visible achievements, but the reality is that the little things are what make up most of what we all do every day. Someone’s efforts or circumstances don’t have to be grandiose to draw attention to them. Just the small, everyday things can be valued. For example, telling a mother that she handled a grocery store toddler tantrum well could be very meaningful and appreciated by her.

By focusing on the simple, seemingly mundane things our compliments can go beyond flattery and actually be very touching to others.

I challenge you to find ways to express your love and admiration for your friends and family by giving sincere compliments on their small efforts and internal qualities. As human beings we have a core need to have our hearts and minds seen and validated. You can fulfill this need for another person by taking the time to recognize and express the positive qualities and efforts of someone you love.

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