How to Give Better Compliments

The practice of giving compliments is something of a lost art.  In fact, even the idea of consciously improving your compliment giving skills calls up thoughts of the charm schools and finishing programs found in eras gone by.  However, giving compliments isn’t just for debutantes and overly-indulgent flatterers – it actually builds rapport with the people around you, creating relationship equity that can be cashed in when you need it most.

Of course, if you want to use the art of complimenting to grow your business and personal relationships, you’ve got to brush up your skills in this arena.  Giving a compliment isn’t something that comes naturally to most people, so you’ll want to pay attention to the following guidelines as you polish this necessary skill:

Be specific with your compliments (…but not weirdly so)

The best compliments we receive are those that are specific to ourselves.  Think about it for a second…  Which of the following compliments would you rather receive after giving a presentation to your company’s sales department?

“Great work today!”


“You really nailed it in your presentation today – great job researching all that information!”

The first version comes off as generic and bland, while the second option speaks to a specific achievement on your part.  If you’ve busted your ass to come up with unique and compelling statistics for your sales presentation, you’ll be much more appreciative of a compliment that reflects this effort than one that makes no mention of your hard work.

Whenever possible, try to tailor your compliments to something specific.  Instead of saying, “You look good today,” say, “That’s a great tie.”  Or, instead of telling a date, “I had fun tonight,” try something like, “I really enjoyed the movie you picked out tonight.”  Just don’t be too specific.  Complimenting a first date on how much you love the little mole on the backside of her knee only comes off as creepy!

Watch out for comparative compliments

Another caveat when it comes to compliment giving is to be wary of any messages that can be taken the wrong way.  As an example, saying, “You look good – have you lost weight?” could be taken to mean that the recipient of your compliment didn’t look good the day before (even if that’s not at all what you mean).

Realistically, you’re going to fall into this trap sometimes, and you can’t be responsible for people who overanalyze and take things too far.  Instead, what you can do is to minimize the risk of comparative compliments being taken poorly by following a specific complimenting formula…

Follow a compliment construction formula

If you struggle to make your compliments sound natural, one way to avoid discomfort is to have a formula in mind that you can use to put together future compliments.  For example, try something like this:

[how you feel] + [about something specific] + [why you feel that way]

Let’s take a look at how this works in person.  Suppose you want to compliment a colleague on her assistance pulling the data you needed for a big report.  Following the formula above, you might say:

“I really appreciate your help pulling the data for my report.  I couldn’t have made my deadline without your support.”

Altogether, you’ve got a feeling, something specific that you appreciate and a reason you feel that way.  Try this formula in a few different settings (or come up with a different variation that feels more natural to you) and before you know it, giving valuable, appreciated compliments will become second nature to you.

Choose your moment

One final consideration to keep in mind when it comes to giving compliments is to choose your moment carefully.  Even the best of compliments can go wrong when delivered at an inappropriate time!

For starters, try to give compliments when you’re alone with the person you’re complimenting (or, at least, when you’re sharing a private conversation with him or her).  Giving a compliment to a person who’s surrounded by friends or coworkers puts him on the spot, and puts you at a serious disadvantage should your compliment come out poorly.

At the same time, try to give your compliment as closely in time as possible to the actual event you’re complimenting.  Saying something like, “I loved that shirt you wore last month,” or “Great job on the presentation you gave a few weeks ago,” comes across as either absent-minded or intentionally manipulative – both of which you want to avoid!

Obviously, you won’t always be in a position to get someone alone immediately after something you’d like to compliment him on.  In these cases, let the compliment go, as you don’t actually need to give out a compliment every time that you could.  By simply making it a priority to engage in this practice more throughout your life, you’ll increase your odds of sharing the type of meaningful praise that helps to grow your personal and professional relationships.

One thought on “How to Give Better Compliments

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