The Priceless Gift of Compliments

Last week at the conclusion of a fascinating meeting with four people discussing how to capture community values, one of the participants shook my hand, thanked me, and told me it had been the highlight of his week.

He then proceeded to tell me that it was because I was hot.

I squirmed uncomfortably as did the others in the room waiting for more explanation because for anyone who knows me personally it’s definitely not an accurate adjective for describing my appearance. Even when it might have been somewhat accurate many years ago, I would never have thought of myself as hot….but perhaps that’s a column for another day.

Anyway, thank goodness he went on to clarify, “Don’t get me wrong. I am a very happily married man with the best wife a guy could possibly have, but you’re hot. You’re hot because you have the first quality I look for in a woman….intelligence. I look for intelligence first and then secondly I look for heart. You’ve got both those qualities and that’s what makes you hot.”

Well that definitely made me sigh with relief, laugh out loud, and thank him profusely for one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve received.

It was an extraordinarily kind and personally meaningful thing to say.

Since that meeting I’ve thought a lot about that particular compliment…rolled it around in my head to savour it, shared the story with a few others, and repeated it to my husband. I must admit it was kind of fun watching his reaction when I told him that another man had told me I was hot!

So, while I’m keenly aware that I’m supposed to be a grown-up and shouldn’t need external compliments, the bottom line is that it made me feel good. It also made me realize I had been given an important gift that is far too rare these days.

Even though the experts say flattery will get you nowhere, I beg to differ. I would even venture to say that compliments are even more important today because they are so rare and unexpected.

Today’s stress too often results in people being so wrapped up in their own work and personal lives, that they don’t take time to recognize and validate others.

And yet, it might just be that paying compliments is a key skill for both workplace leadership and personal success. 

Whether you’re dealing with your workplace colleagues, boss, friends or families, an authentic, meaningful and well-placed compliment will make both you and the recipient feel good.

Complimenting your boss works because they hardly ever get them.

Complimenting your colleagues is effective because it will make them appreciate your attention to detail and want to work with you. Some studies even indicate that people who pay compliments are often perceived as being smarter.

Family and friends will appreciate that you value them and aren’t taking them for granted.

Keep in mind though that we’re not talking here about generic, cliché run-of-the mill compliments.

The cardinal rule of paying compliments is that they need to be distinguished, insightful, honest, and specific. It means paying attention and noticing something that is being done well by the other party.

Compliments also need to be timely. They are most effective if they are delivered immediately after someone has done something praiseworthy.  On the other hand sometimes timing is everything and if you see a friend, family member, or workplace colleague in a slump, a well placed compliment could have an uplifting and significant impact.

However, as with most things, compliments are also about balance so you also need to be careful about paying too many compliments or they won’t be seen as valuable.

So this holiday season and as we move into a new year, why don’t we all try to be a little kinder and more complimentary to one another?

After all, the hot compliment I received is a gift that is still resonating. The cost of the gift? Zero dollars. The value to the recipient?  Priceless.

Posted on 12-21-08

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