As a general rule, I am not very good at accepting compliments. I never have been. I tend to wave them off and disregard them as uninformed comments coming from people who have lovely intentions but ridiculously low standards.
My daughter has been after me for years trying to teach me how to be more gracious in accepting a compliment. “Thank you, I appreciate that” is the response she recommends. I have tried it out a few times — and while it is definitely the more polite approach, inside it feels very inauthentic and uncomfortable.
As a result, I am very scrupulous about the compliments I hand out. I am careful not to dole out throw-away compliments for the purpose of trying to make someone feel good. It’s not who I am — I am very conscious about making sure that the compliments I give are heartfelt, accurate, and useful. When I do give out a compliment, the recipient knows that I really mean it and that it comes with absolute authenticity.
An Incredible Compliment
The other day, however, I received an incredible compliment. It came from Nancy, a woman who asked me to speak on the topic of leadership for her organization. It was a zoom presentation and the whole thing lasted maybe 55 minutes. As often happens when I present, the participants jumped in with quite a bit of interaction, commentary and engagement. After my presentation was over, they lingered, asking me to share a little bit about my professional journey, opening the door for a substantially more personal conversation. It was informal, and I had a great time.
After the event was over, I received an email from Nancy. Here’s what it said…
Still hearing from people how great your presentation was.
They are all saying how amazing it was.
Thank you so much.
They are asking for your info.
In case you’re wondering, the definition of kvelling is: Bursting with pride.
She was bursting with pride because she brought me into her organization, and she received wonderful feedback for her decision. For me, that was a home run and it was a compliment that was easy for me to receive and feel good about. Not only that, I found the compliment so cool that I even shared it with a few close friends — and now I am writing about it!
How to Give a Compliment that Matters
So, what kinds of compliments are effective? What kinds of compliments make a difference to the person you are complimenting? What kinds of compliments are appreciated and not blown off?
Here are 5 tips for powerful compliments:
1. Be Observant
Take the time to notice the moments when someone is making an effort. If you can tell that someone has made a special effort to spice up a meal, notice it. If you see that someone spent extra time on a project, pay attention. If you observe that someone feels proud of their work, take a moment to learn about what they accomplished. One of the greatest compliments is simply taking the time to notice what others do not. Your interest in them is a wonderful gift — one that’s just as valuable as the compliment itself.
2. Be Specific
When you are giving a compliment, be very specific in identifying what you are complimenting. For example, rather than saying, “I love your outfit today” you might say something like, “I really love the way you match your colors together and add jewelry to lift you up.” Another example might be, “I really appreciate your taking the time to truly understand where I am coming from by asking me questions.” The more specific you are, the more value your compliment delivers.
3. Be Original
“I’m kvelling” is original. “You look dazzling” is far more impactful that “You look good today.” Take the time to use your words effectively to describe what you are noticing. Be creative. Be descriptive. Be enthusiastic with your compliment. Use your tone and your energy to emphasize your emotion — and make sure that it comes from a genuine place.
4. Address Something that Matters to the Person you are Complimenting
If someone compliments my car, it’s nice, but not overwhelmingly meaningful to me. If however, someone compliments the skill and attention of my amazing coaches, then I feel an intense amount of pride and satisfaction. Find out what matters to the person you are complimenting. Understand their values and their priorities. Take the time to give your attention to what’s important to them.
5. Describe How it Impacts You
A compliment really hits home when you are able to describe how the person you are complimenting impacts you. For example, just the other day, a client of mine said, “Kim, one of the things I love about you is how you are able simplify everything. It leaves me feeling so much lighter and clearer.” Think about how the person you are complimenting makes you think, feel, and behave — what is it about that person that leaves a mark on you? Share it with them!
One More Tip
One of the most memorable compliments I ever remember hearing was from my mother. Interestingly, she was complimenting herself! She was well-known as a phenomenal cook and every once in a while, after she finished serving everyone else and finally sat down to her own plate, she would say “Mmmm, this is delicious.” It would certainly make us laugh but it taught me one of the most valuable lessons — learn to compliment yourself and learn to appreciate what you bring to the table!
Practice these 5 tips and email me the compliment you write about yourself! I would love to hear what you come up with. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing from you!