How to compliment
April 14, 2018 8:10 AM   Subscribe

One of the few things that makes me feel joy is complimenting people. I don't do it very often because I'm a bit socially anxious and don't want to make anybody feel uncomfortable. How can I pay compliments every now and then without seeming insincere or manipulative or strange?

I do not want to compliment people on anything related to sexual attractiveness. I am a cis woman, if that matters.

I've taken to complimenting people indirectly. For example, commenting positively about a co-worker to our boss. Or e-mailing an employer to tell them I was really pleased with the excellent service I got from X employee. But I'd like to be able to say these things directly sometimes, especially to friends and family.
posted by Stonkle to Human Relations (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do you like getting compliments? If you feel joy in giving them, isn't it because you want the recipient to feel joy in being appreciated? There's no reason people will assume you're being manipulative if you aren't. But
there are ways to make the compliment less of a big deal. Just like any kind of response to another person, an "I statement" is less awkward than an attribution. So not "you are a great employee" but "Thank you so much for your extra help and effort I really appreciate it." Not "you are so smart" but "I really appreciate your sharing all your knowledge and insight with me." Or "I've learned so much from you." These kinds of compliments make you sound as if you're sharing your gratitude, rather than implicitly declaring yourself an expert giving a positive review.
Of course, "great shoes! where did you get them? " to a friend, or, to a loved one, "You're wonderful" work too, when they're as sincere as you seem to e.
posted by velveeta underground at 8:27 AM on April 14, 2018 [15 favorites]

I like receiving compliments on things I can control.

Nice haircut!
Great shoes!
You handled that situation adeptly!

Not so good:
You have beautiful eyes. (My response is usually, “Thanks! I grew them myself!” because I am a jerk.)
posted by coppermoss at 8:48 AM on April 14, 2018 [26 favorites]

Pick details and things that are not obvious. "You're looking really good!" is probably a veiled suggestion that the complimentee appears to have gained weight. But, "Love the way your hair looks with it tucked behind your ears!" or "Man, getting the report done a week before deadline. You are a lifesafer. You are downright bonafide wonderful." or "You have the best taste in socks that I know" or, "If you should happen to feel like humming, please do, because it is the most soothing thing I know." or "Orange is definitely your colour." or "If I want precise I go to you." or "Your jokes are wicked!" or "I wish I had powerful legs like you. You must have put in masses of training!" or, "Thank God I am back in the office with people who make me feel safe!" or "Well done. If you hadn't been paying attention we could have had a nasty accident."
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:49 AM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

How can I pay compliments every now and then without seeming insincere or manipulative or strange?

By doing so only when you mean the compliment sincerely, where you're paying it because you think the recipient deserves it rather than because you hope to get something from them later, and flat refusing to ruminate on whether or not it came over as strange.

Seriously, what's the worst that could possibly happen if you get a reputation for being strangely drawn to say nice things about people to their faces? "OMG, here comes Stonkle, quick everybody RUN lest they say something that makes us feel appreciated"?

People like feeling appreciated. If that's strange in your circles, your circles need improving, and it sounds like you're the one who can take that on.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

First, I want to say that I think it is great that you are paying indirect compliments. That's a lovely thing in and of itself.

Second, like coppermooss says above, I like receiving compliments about things that I have done or said or achieved, not things that I possess by dint of genetics or luck. I also like when someone compliments me privately, so that I never wonder if they are doing it as a performance.
posted by minervous at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

Don't underestimate the joy-spreading value of compliments to random strangers, either. It's a subset of random acts of kindness, only better in some ways.

Mr. DrGail sometimes worries that the recipients of these compliments will be uncomfortable or think I'm strange, but I find that people are pretty good at determining when someone is sincere and has no ulterior motives.
posted by DrGail at 9:36 AM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

This may be obvious, but don't comment on perceived fluctuations in people's weight unless you are extremely close to the person. Myriads of factors beyond a person's control can lead to changes, as can illness minor or major; even if a change is intentional, the person probably won't want to be complimented as it implies all sorts of things.

As far as general compliments, go for it, just don't go overboard as that can start to seem disingenuous or like you're awkwardly trying to figure out how to get to know the person. It takes a lot to go overboard, though, so don't worry!
posted by Tess at 9:51 AM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the key is to make it a passing statement--a quick, "hey, that coat is a great color!" is the kind of compliment I like getting/like giving. I feel like it only has the potential to be creepy if someone a)violates the personal space bubble and/or b)expects a serious conversation to ensue. Give the compliment and don't linger.
posted by TwoStride at 10:11 AM on April 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

I also prefer compliments on things I can control, like "Hey, I like your shirt," or "That necklace is very pretty." Comments on my appearance -- my eyes, my hair, etc. -- make me uncomfortable.
posted by sarcasticah at 10:48 AM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I like receiving compliments on things I can control.

I always stick to complimenting people on this stuff - outfits/hair/tattoos/etc., and it's been working for me.
posted by mordax at 10:49 AM on April 14, 2018

I try to stick to complimenting behaviors. Examples that I’ve used recently:

“Wow, you explained that really well, I understand it much better!”

“That was a cool solution to {problem}, I never would have thought of that!”

“I love it when you do {frequent behavior}, it makes all our lives easier!”

A lot of the time I make a point of thanking people for doing things that help me, even if it’s something that’s “normal”. Because they did help me, and they should get recognition for it!

I get really uncomfortable when I receive compliments on my appearance, even if it’s something I control like what I wear. Because, sure, I’m glad you like the shirt but it’s not like I designed it.
posted by fencerjimmy at 11:19 AM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh and by the way -- and this is not necessarily for you, OP, as you are clearly sensitive to how compliments are taken, but just for the record of this thread if someone in need comes upon it -- compliments on women's clothing by random men always feel like a boundary crosser, as it just serves to make her aware of being looked at. No "hey, nice skirt" as you pass in the street. Unless she cares what you think in general, she doesn't care if you like her skirt and would rather not be jolted out of her train of thought to think about you looking at it.
posted by velveeta underground at 11:23 AM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I feel so awkward complimenting people, but your observations about the project in that meeting were spot on.
You won the croquet tournament! Wow, way to go, the competition was fierce.
I cannot believe you got Mr. Crankyclient to agree to have us do that thing; that's client-whispering right there.

Practice. Compliment your cat. Compliment people on MeFi. Compliment your Mom. Compliment specific behaviors, like solving the crossword, instead of traits like someones intelligence. People remember specific compliments. I cherish being complimented on a particularly impressive bit of parallel parking. Look for somebody doing something right. This is a terrific trait to cultivate in yourself; I think it makes the world better to call out the god stuff.
posted by theora55 at 11:36 AM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

You won't be "insincere or manipulative or strange" if you are sincere.

You may find it more natural if you put the compliment in a mini-narrative rather than let it stand on it's own. "I think the boss will be pleased because you structured it so well."
posted by SemiSalt at 5:00 PM on April 14, 2018

It's awesome of you to want to spread more compliments around. I like you for it. Go you!

It just takes practice. I'm the world's biggest introvert. I spent several years basically living in the furthest back corner of my closet, because it was safe there. People basically terrify me.

But because I'm driven by a need to help people, I've had to learn how to talk to them. And complimenting is an easy conversation starter. It's an easy warm fuzzy. It's a low-risk, low-cost firefly in the night. And the more you realize how much it makes other people happy, the easier it gets for you to do.

Now, I'm in a wheelchair, and I have a laugh you can hear five blocks away. And from time to time my hair is either blue or in a crew cut. What I'm saying is, people notice me. So when I say "Oh my gosh, I love your shirt!" I never wonder if the woman whose shirt I love heard me. I know. Assuming you don't have the benefit of four wheels or blue hair, you might have to work at audibility or noticeability a little bit.

Start super-low-risk. Compliment a friend. A friend at work, a friend you've known your entire life, any friend. Your friends know you and like you, so you're not risking anything. From there, branch out to people who've helped you in some ways. "Thank you for explaining the theory of relativity to me; I'm blown away by how easy you make it seem." "Thank you so much for helping me find the right shoes to go with this dress. Your fashion sense is amazing." "Thank you for recommending the stuffed chicken tonight. I don't know how you keep this entire menu straight, but you're doing a great job at it."

Then you can graduate to complimenting random passersby. There was a woman in the grocery store the other day who was wearing a gorgeous shirt. Complimented her as I rolled by. Lady at the doctor's office whose shoes were fun and feisty. Complimented her from across the waiting room. Gal in a Facebook group I'm in said something really smart. Complimented her briefly in the group, then PMed her to follow up.

If I could manage to get good at giving compliments, I have no doubt whatsoever that you can do it, too.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 5:10 PM on April 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you think someone’s eyes are beautiful cause you’ve never seen eyes like theirs, its fine to point it out. You can say, “I wish my eyes did that!” Make it light. Poke fun at yourself. I don’t know if theres a cultural difference but most blacks and Latinos love compliments on our looks. Positive and respectful reinforcements. Like everyone said, just be sincere. If you love their shoes... go right on and ask where they got them. One of my best ways of going about it, is sit, observe and get to study a situation before actively taking part in it. You get to see people in their quirks. And remember... we’re all quirky. Never think you are less than anyone just cause they “seem” to have it together.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:21 PM on April 14, 2018

compliments on women's clothing by random men always feel like a boundary crosser, as it just serves to make her aware of being looked at. No "hey, nice skirt" as you pass in the street.

Yep. I am someone who has stepped up my complimenting lately (I have a meditation practice that suggests thanking people every day, especially for things they may have even forgotten they did) and I am aware of gender dynamics just in case (in your case, just make sure complimenting random men isn't seen as flirty, unless that's what you're after). And with family/friends I will sometimes do the above "Hey I'm not sure if I ever thanked you for giving me that ride home that one time, I really appreciate that. You're a good friend" or whatever.

For people I am closer to I will definitely compliment on appearance, especially if I notice they have gotten something new or if they are talking about it. "Hey nice haircut" or "Are those new boots? they are really great" and for random people it can just be thanking them for what they did. "Thanks for taking the time to explain that." or "Oh hey I appreciate you doing this" which I'll often say on Twitter when someone takes the time to cogently explain something.
posted by jessamyn at 2:51 PM on April 15, 2018

Another advantage of being specific and using "i statements" is that it makes it easier for the person receiving the compliment to take it in. Some people get very uncomfortable with compliments and try to push them away or minimize them. So, if you say "You're gorgeous" or "You're brilliant", they just want to argue that they really aren't. But it you say, "I love the way your scarf highlights the colors of your skirt" or "Thanks for explaining that - you make it all so clear" there is nothing there for them argue with, they can just let it in.
posted by metahawk at 9:00 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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