Mark Twain once said he could live two months on a good compliment.

I have evidence that a good compliment can last for at least three years but more on that in a minute.

First I need to address the question on the mind of at least three of you who have recently wondered to me if giving me (or anyone) a compliment is the same thing as approval.  After all, according to this post of mine, approval is a bad thing, right?

Well, in my opinion, giving a compliment isn’t the same thing as approval.

Approval is as damaging as criticism when it’s an overall atmosphere in a relationship. Particularly a relationship where one person is an authority figure. For example, teacher/student, boss/employee, priest/parishoner, parent/child. It can also creep into marriage or in friendships if one person is needier than the other.

In relationships like that, approval can become like a drug. One hit is never enough.

Approval will make you complacent and afraid to try new things.

So when asking someone for advice, make sure you are truly asking for information that you don’t already know. Too often, asking for advice means you are really looking for approval and no one, ultimately, can give you approval, so it becomes a never-ending quest.

Anyway, just wanted to clear that up, because I’d hate to think anyone would hold back on giving compliments because of that.

A compliment is a form of praise. I like what C. S. Lewis said about praise:

The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.

I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.

Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.

Isn’t that last line especially cool? “Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

Three years ago while buying something at Shopko the clerk gave me a compliment that I remember to this day and will probably always remember because it gave me such a lift. More importantly, it gave me a template for how to give a compliment because it’s never been my forte.

Specificity and spontaneity are the key to a really good compliment. “Nice dress” isn’t as memorable as, “I love the color you painted your living room wall because it’s so calming and makes me feel rested. I want to paint a wall this color.”

Unexpectedness is another key to a good compliment. You expect someone to say “great speech” after you’ve given a speech. But you don’t expect a compliment when you’re checking out at Shopko.

But, really, any praise is fine, don’t worry about it, because it’s likely that what you’ve noticed as being praiseworthy is something the other person didn’t realize was noteworthy at all, and you’ll make their day. Or even their next three years.

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Filed under: Conversation/Communication

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