Book Excerpt: How to give a compliment

, ,

My book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is shipping from Amazon!

Here is tip #21 from the book: Mud Slinging Means You’re Losing Ground

If you want people to like you, give them compliments. I know, that sounds like I’m telling you to brownnose. Instead, I’m telling you to find genuine ways to compliment people, which requires spending a lot of time looking for the good in people.

The difference between a genuine compliment and a desperate brownnosing attempt is empathy and insight, according to Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Harvard Graduate School of Education psychologists and co-authors of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation.

If you understand what worries someone, and what he is trying hardest to achieve personally, then you will easily spot opportunities for praise. Don’t just say “good job” for the sake of it. In fact, don’t just say “good job.” The most effective compliments are very specific. And creative words are more memorable than standard words, according to Mark Knapp, communications professor at University of Texas. The most common types of praise are about possessions “Nice car” or about actions “Great shot.”

Praise of character is the most rare and most memorable praise of all. But it’s also the most difficult because it requires you to understand the person you’re praising and be thoughtful about how you talk to them. For example, “I appreciated the compassion you showed for the team when you were canceling the project.”

To increase the weight of your compliments, establish yourself as a trusted resource. This means you need to be able to give people bad news as well as good news. I will never forget the employee who told me, “You know how everyone laughs at your jokes at the staff meeting? Well, the jokes are not that funny, but since all those people report to you, they laugh. You should stop with the jokes.”

I was crushed to hear that I was not funny. But it would have been worse if I had been allowed to go on and on. (Though sometimes I tell myself that I really was funny and that particular employee just didn’t get my humor.) Still, this person’s subsequent compliments meant more to me because I knew she was honest.

Complimenting your boss is an important part of building a good relationship. Don’t be shy because you have less experience. In fact, powerful people think that people who praise them are smarter and more likeable than those who don’t, according to Knapp. On top of that, powerful people receive fewer compliments than the rest of us.

I never knew how important it is to compliment a boss until I complimented mine, mostly by accident. My boss gave a speech packed with bad news to employees, and I knew it had been hard on him. So after the meeting, I stopped by his office to tell him privately, “You delivered the bad news really well. People were shocked, but they listened to you, and you made them hopeful.”

His face brightened, and he said, in a surprised voice, “Really?”

I realized immediately how much my input had meant to him. How surprised he was to know I thought he did well and how much he respected my assessment. It seemed pathetic, really. I had thought he was a more confident guy than that. But that’s the thing about complimenting your boss: It’s disarming and makes your boss think of you as an equal.

To make a genuine connection, give genuine compliments, but balance them with insightful criticism. With the right balance people will view you as a smarter person and they’ll take all your comments more seriously.

So concentrate on the good in people, and compliment it throughout the day, you just might feel like you’re actually surrounded by kind, competent, and interesting people. And the research shows that they will find you to be more kind and competent as well.

12 replies
  1. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    You are funny. You’re hilarious. You’re the funniest person I’ve every met. Did I do it right?

    Compliments are great. Some people can lap them up without end. But others become suspicious when they are overdone.

    • wefgwe
      wefgwe says:

      Aaaand you did not read the whole article, did you?

      Well, it’s a very good comment for not reading the stuff ;)

  2. Hope
    Hope says:

    I think a well placed compliment can get you far in the business world. But there’s also a limit. One of my peers is the world’s biggest suck up and everyone avoids him…it’s so disingenuous. Even the pres of our company commented one day that he always has his head up the pres’ butt.

  3. dave
    dave says:

    This subject Penelope, is one of the major motivators in my life. Although it is a bit selfish, I give compliments to make me feel good, not to get people to like me. I once wrote a book review, quasi-advertisement in a national trade forum for this one fellow that spiked sales of his 130.00 book. I did so because I genuinely believed in his stuff. The emotion in his appreciative response reduced me to tears…which if you know me, is akin to Britney Spears wearing a nun outfit on stage. I will never forget this response as long as I live.

    This is a great post topic Penelope! And it works beyond one’s wildest imagination…if one is authentic.

    * * * * * * * *

    Hi, David. Thanks for reminding us how good it feels to be nice. So much of the happiness reseach (that I quote constantly) says that people who are nice just to be nice are actually happier people. Being nice makes us happy in ways that having tons of money or hotshot job can never do.


  4. Marissa
    Marissa says:

    Penelope, you’re right on! Not only can positive language improve others’ perception of you, but it can also change the work environment. CultureRx migrates teams and companies to a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) by first removing harmful language from the environment. They’ve coined this “SLUDGE”. SLUDGE is the icky language we use to pass judgment on others. It really keeps us mired in the muck and perpetuates an unhealthy culture.

  5. Katie Konrath
    Katie Konrath says:

    Compliments are very, very powerful! Your example of how even your boss needed them is great because normally we don’t give compliments to the people above us.

    I’ve learned that giving a compliment is also the best way to critique someone’s work too. Once I had to help someone improve a photography website, and I worked really hard to tell them what needed improvement by telling them about the things they excelled at (the photos) and how I wanted to see more of that instead of the commentary.

    I was a little worried when I sent it, because I had told them to change a lot of things–but they were thrilled by the review because it made them feel good about their work.

    I learned as an English tutor in college that students don’t respond to negative critiques, that the best way to get them to want to improve is to emphasize everything they did well, and then to present the other things as simply minor problems to be fixed.

  6. Grant Czerepak
    Grant Czerepak says:

    Being genuine in your compliments is something that takes practice like anything else. Dale Carnegie laid that out at the turn of the last century. And a compliment does not have to be praise, it can also be a genuine concern for another person’s well being.

    Take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and see that each need is addressed from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top with an honest question if the need is addressed and a compliment regarding the need:

    1. Please sit down can I get you anything to eat or drink?
    2. Should we close the door so we are not disturbed?
    3. How is your spouse and family?
    4. Are you being respected for your education and experience?
    6. Are you accomplishing your personal goals?
    7. What would you do if you were in charge?

  7. Ariellah
    Ariellah says:

    Thanks for an interesting and relevant post.(Honest compliment)
    Everyone needs a compliment, it is away of acknowledging who you are and the way you do things.
    As Mark Twain said “i can live two months on a good compliment”. But saying that he also suggested “Do not offer a compliment and ask a favor at the same time. A compliment that is charged for is not valuable”

  8. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    I do not usually compliment people when I see them unless I really feel the need to and it’s good to learn about how to compliment your boss too, not because you want to be promoted or something, but a genuine one that will help build a genuine relationship. Thanks Penelope!


Comments are closed.