How to Give Great Compliments

One of the many wonderful things about sharing a life with Theresa is that she came packaged with an adorable bear cub of a dog named Kiera. As I write this, this pup is laying on the floor behind me, snoring. She may or may not be asleep; she snores regardless, a gentle, guttural purr of a snore.

Kiera and I go on a walk most days and the harness she wears pushes her long, brindle fur into spikes around its edge. She’s getting on up there in age and yet she has a downright jaunty gait when she goes on walks. It’s all beyond adorable. I’m not the only one to notice, either; since the weather has warmed, our walks have been peppered with calls from little girls riding their bike by us, kids eight to 13 (or so) who yell out, “Your dog is so cute!” while never missing a stride of their pedals.

Delivering compliments is like many other skills where there are those to whom it comes more easily than others, and we can all develop our skills with practice. To me, these kids are just about perfection in compliment delivery.

What I love about their compliments:

  • They’re brief and to the point.
  • They’re not a whole scene where I feel obligated to engage and explain where Kiera came from or what makes her cute or anything like that. It’s a pure compliment/thank you/moving on experience.
  • Whether they know it or not (probably not) the kids are cuing into something I value highly, this sweet pup.
  • It’s not overly personal or intimate.

Another example: A few years ago, I was walking in the grocery store. I happened to be feeling particularly good about my look that day – my outfit felt great and my hair was at its best. A man was studying one of the meat cases with a whole lot of seriousness but happened to look up as I walked by. He smiled widely and said, “Great hair!” or something to that effect. I smiled back, said thank you, and kept on by.

Funny thing about that one: A few weeks later, that fella was looking over his girlfriend’s shoulder – his girlfriend, my client – and saw me on my website, recognizing me as the person he complimented. I had been memorable to him because he loves delivering compliments but has often run into the wall of women assuming he was launching into a come-on. I had received his compliment with the same spirit of brief, warm connection as he – and the kids on their bikes – had offered it.

To me, that’s what compliments are about – those moments of brief, warm connection. These are the moments that can brighten a person’s day by suggesting, “I see you; I value something you value.” These are the moments that can break through that pervasive feeling of otherness and separation, and remind us that we are all connected, even if only one moment at a time.

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