sweet somethings

how to compliment, sweet somethings, boy whispering to grandmother

It’s somewhat alarming to me how many social kindnesses are rapidly going the way of the dodo. But the effect of a simple and sincere compliment is still as profound as ever. If you’ve gotten out of practice, getting ready to give a compliment may very well make the back of your neck go all tingly. Take that as an indicator of the positive power in what you are about to do. (And isn’t it wonderful how alive that *zing* makes you feel?)

Maybe you’re a leader who is committed to honing your skills as far as praising and encouraging those around you on a regular basis.

Maybe you want to know how to compliment a girl or guy you like. (Note: If you’re looking for self-serving pick-up lines, I’m afraid you’ll need to visit a different kind of blog.)

Perhaps you’ve been really wanting to show your appreciation for a family member, but it feels foreign and a little weird.

Or maybe you just aren’t sure how to compliment anyone at all in a way that will be well received.

Well, this one’s for you. Here are some guidelines for how to compliment others with class and maximum effectiveness:

how to compliment: the lead-up

A compliment should be sincere. To compliment on something that you’re not convinced is really all that terrific, just for the sake of “saying something nice,” usually just winds up feeling awkward for both parties. Instead, a compliment should reflect some real thought on your part as to the outstanding qualities of the person you will be complimenting.

Avoid the common pitfall of giving what I call “backhanded compliments” — compliments with a qualifier tacked on due to nerves, wit, mixed motives or insincerity. A couple of examples are “You’re pretty smart . . . for a girl” or “You’re really fun to hang around with, when I actually ever hear from you.”

A compliment should be given solely as a gift to the receiver, and not in hopes of getting something in return. This means that slurring “Hey, baby, how’d you get your bad self in them jeans?” at the club doesn’t really count for our purposes.  Nor does schmoozing to get a sale – or even just a favorable response like admiration that turns the focus back onto yourself.  Know your motives and be honest about them. Insincere or self-serving flattery is hollow and usually backfires.

how to compliment: the focus

While complimenting someone on an article of clothing or a haircut is all well and good, the best compliments are those that reflect character and action:

“You have a great smile.”

“I think it’s amazing how much you care about other people.”

“I admire the way you let that older man go first in line.”

The more of those tingly sensations you get as you prepare to deliver a compliment, the more likely you are getting at something real about the person.

The best compliments are specific. “You’re really awesome” would be even better as “You really cheered me up today when I was feeling down. You do that a lot for people!”

how to compliment: the delivery

A compliment is a gift of time and focus as much as it is a gift of words. Always make eye contact when giving a compliment in person. And, if you know it, use the person’s name. Eye contact and hearing one’s name have a way of causing heartfelt words to sink in even deeper.

how to compliment: A compliment is a gift of time and focus as much as it is a gift of words.

Of course, not every compliment must be given in person. I’m a big fan of texting compliments throughout the day, sending short emails that have no purpose other than the compliment, and, yes . . . sending those outdated thingies called letters and cards. You’d be surprised how special someone feels when they know you took the time to hand write a note or card and drop it off at the post office.

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About Erik

I'm an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, listener, noticer and lover of life. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

17 responses to “sweet somethings

  • reocochran

    I am one who feels all social graces are going by the wayside and worry about cruelty and bullying. Hoping we may someday go back to a more kind and meaningful way of communication. 🙂 Now, I sound like my 86 year old Mom!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      We can each make the choice to have a kind and meaningful way of communication with those we meet, and in this way, bring it into our own lives. And, just like negativity, kindness is contagious.

      And if your 86-year-old mom is kind and meaningful in the way she speaks to others, we would all do well to sound more like her!

      Liked by 1 person

      • reocochran

        Oh, don’t worry, my mom was a high school Spanish, English and World Lit teacher for 30 years. She is nice and yet, strong. She spreads all kinds of caring, from helping us pick up our toys and working in an inner city church basement, to sharing our toys and teaching Head Start when it was a volunteer program, to going to Washington for Civil Rights with my Dad. She’s a force to reckon with, but her students stop by in their 40’s and 50’s when they see my side name/her name 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Erik

          Sounds like my kind of gal! And what a wonderful tribute you’ve given to her. Now, here’s a challenge for you today, sparked by the picture I chose for this post: tell her everything you just told us here, and how much it has meant to you. Sounds like a lot of her rubbed off on you, because you now care about the same things. Maybe you could even share the post with her, along with reading her your comment. She’ll feel famous, like Queen for a Day.

          Liked by 1 person

  • How to Remember Things PART 1: Tricky Spelling

    If you have trouble spelling “compliment” (or confuse it with “complement”), why not check out Erik’s post on asmithblog.com for some terrific strategies on how to remember tricky spelling?

    “How to Remember Things Part 1: Tricky Spelling”


  • Sean P Carlin

    In the Digital Age, mailing old-fashioned notes — be it thank-you cards or birthday cards — has become a powerful expression of care/gratitude/sympathy/love/what-have-you once again: I know that when *I* receive a note in the mail like that, the sender had to go to extra trouble that he could’ve easily circumvented by sending an e-mail or text (heartfelt though it may have very well been). I make a point to send handwritten birthday cards to friends whom I rarely have occasion to see in person anymore — mostly due to distance — because I can think of no more meaningful way to let someone know that being out of sight doesn’t mean being out of mind; that I value the relationship enough to buy a card, write a message, and take it to the post office. Amazing that something we once did as a matter of habit back in the bygone analog days (not that long ago) is now considered going out of your way for someone!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik

      So happy to hear that you do this, Sean.

      I had an event with some of the kids I mentor a few years back. I had them all randomly draw one another’s names and addresses from a hat, take a blank envelope and secretly address it, ready for post. I challenged them to write a short note of encouragement to the person whose name they drew and to mail it during the week. After a few moments of quizzical pause, questions included “Where do you write stuff on these?” and “Don’t you have to put, like, a stamp or something on it?” and “Where do you put it so the mail guy will get it? Do you have to go to the mail place (“post office”)?” Funny – yet also very sad somehow. At least they got an education and had those pressing questions answered at some point in their lives!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sean P Carlin

        The “mail place”! Oh, dear — I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You know, it’s funny: I have four older siblings from my father’s first marriage — they’re all 10+ years my senior — but I have discovered that I have many more points of cultural commonality with those a decade ahead of me (like them) than I do with the generation a decade behind (like cousins and nieces/nephews born in the eighties and nineties). I’ve often ruminated on how my generation will be the last in the history of humanity (not to get dramatic) that will retain memories of an analog world. (Well, at least until the zombie apocalypse strikes!) Don’t get me wrong: I take advantage of digital technology just the same as anyone else, but I also long for the days when you could run an errand to the “mail place” for 20 minutes and, quite blessedly, no one during that brief period could reach you. You could be alone with your thoughts and appreciate the sights and sounds all around you, whereas in an on-demand world, everyone always has their nose buried in an iPhone. There’s a certain tactility, it would seem, that’s given way to virtuality; abstractions have supplanted actualities. I’m not suggesting we go back to what was — I won’t be that crusty old man on his front-porch rocker carrying on about how “Back in my day, things were better…” — but I do think my generation has a responsibility to try to preserve, and pass along, some of the habits — some of the courtesies — of our analog upbringing.

        That was a bit off-topic, I guess, Erik, but you inspired me to wax philosophical!

        Liked by 1 person

  • chadlittlefield

    Really enjoyed this post and love how you’ve changed up the end of the blog for booking info etc.

    Sending this to you in a hammock not too far from where the attached picture was taken. Sequoia forest is RIDICULOUS.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik

      Thanks, Chad! I can just imagine you there (and will have to, since the picture didn’t upload). Send it to me!

      Also interested to know one of the best compliments you remember having received …


  • Jed Jurchenko

    I’m a big fan of the “sneaky compliment.” For example, I might tell my wife Jenny, “I love how Mackenzie (our daughter) has been working so hard to get all of her chores done at home.” I’ll say this when Mackenzie is in the same room and listening, but wont speak directly to her. It’s fun to watch the smile come across Mackenzie’s face when I complement her indirectly.

    I also like the “non-verbal compliment.” I have a tough time identifying a specific compliment that has stuck with me. However, the fact that Jenny rushes over to hug me first thing in the morning, and every time I come home from work, is a huge compliment. It’s her quiet way of letting me know that I’m an important person in her life. And these complement means the world 🙂

    Giving complements is an area that I’m continuing to grow in. This post was an excellent reminder of the power of compliments, and that I need to continue to be intentional about developing this quality. Thanks Erik!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik

      Yes! I love the “sneaky compliment,” as well. I do this to parents about their kids, to managers about employees, etc. – all within earshot.

      And I’m with you on silent compliments, as well. I can think of specific nonverbal compliments that certain friends and I share. An intense point means “You! You’re unbelievable and I’m choked up right now.” A kid grin, squinted eyes and shoulder shrug means “I’m glad I get to be friends with you.”

      Thanks for adding those!

      One thing this all reminded me to add: It’s easy to praise what someone did rather than who they are. And that isn’t a bad thing. But growth comes from learning how to compliment people on the core of their being — what about them caused them to do the nice or cool thing — rather than their performance.


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