3 Ways to Make Your Compliments Really Count

Doing kind, altruistic deeds is one clear strategy to boost our own happiness. Volunteering in your community, making a donation to a charity to help war-ravaged refugees, and lending a hand or an ear to a family member who needs it all come to mind.

But our good deeds can also come in small packages. Compliments are perhaps one of the simplest kindnesses we can offer to those around us. Taking the time to see something positive or praiseworthy and comment on it has much more power than it might seem.

Giving a compliment focuses our attention on what’s good and enhances our ability to communicate effectively. In fact, a good compliment has been shown to motivate workers as much as monetary rewards! And relationships in which meaningful admiration for each partner is expressed regularly are happier. 

Take advantage of the many opportunities you have to offer compliments today. Here are three research-backed tips to make your compliments impactful.

Focus It

Many of the compliments we give each other focus on appearance. “I love your hair today!” “You have beautiful eyes!” Receiving that type of compliment can feel good, but it does little to boost our well-being long-term. If you want to give a compliment that sticks, focus your compliment on another person’s behavior.

Psychologist Carol Dweck researches the effects of person praise (praising a person on an innate, fixed trait) versus process praise (praising someone based on the effort or actions they exhibited).

It’s the difference between telling a young student who did well on a test “You’re smart” (person praise) and “You studied hard” (process praise). When fed a steady diet of process praise, a person is more likely to develop a growth mindset, or the belief that abilities and skills can be developed.

People with a growth mindset have greater motivation, resilience, and well-being. Try focusing a compliment on a specific behavior or action that reflects that person’s character. “You were really brave to speak up in that meeting.” Or “The way you put together this meal was so creative and thoughtful.” This type of compliment not only reinforces the behavior but also helps the person to identify with the character trait.

Mean It

Being honest and genuine when offering a compliment is surely more powerful than being flippant. One way we can enhance our genuineness is by connecting with the emotion of gratitude. Reflecting deeply on what we have received and why we appreciate it has significant effects on our own well-being. When we focus our gratitude on another person, we have an opportunity to boost happiness for both of us and to strengthen the relationship.

Martin Seligman and colleagues devised an exercise in which students reflect on a person in their lives for whom they feel a deep gratitude and write a letter expressing their thankfulness.

Imagine what you would say to someone who was a true mentor earlier in your life or to a friend who has sacrificed a lot for you recently. When these letters are delivered in person, both the giver and receiver enjoy boosts in well-being, sometimes lasting up to a month! If you’re holding onto a compliment you’d like to give to someone who has impacted you, write down your thoughts first. What did they do for you and why it was meaningful? Then share your gratitude with them. Your willingness to have such an honest conversation will likely be one of the most sincere compliments they’ve ever received.

Receive It

Have you ever received a compliment and been uncomfortable about it? Maybe you even shrugged it off or dismissed it right away. The effectiveness of a compliment is not solely the responsibility of the giver. For a compliment to be most valuable, it must be received with grace and courage.

Research shows that reflecting on the meaning of a compliment can yield greater happiness benefits, particularly if the compliment is aimed at an aspect of ourselves that raises self-doubt. Well-intentioned, sincere compliments are gifts from the people around us, and when make excuses not to accept them, we miss opportunities to connect with and benefit from those people.

If you’re not feeling put-together today and someone does compliment you on how you look, recognize that those self-defeating thoughts that pop immediately into your mind are your thoughts, not theirs. Stop to hear the compliment and find a phrase you can use to accept the compliment in the moment, such as “Thanks so much for noticing.” And when you have a few minutes, think back to the compliment and ask yourself, why did they admire me and what does it mean that they made the effort to say it? Reflecting on it will boost your self-esteem and generate more gratitude for that person’s kindness.

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