Is it okay to share a compliment without the complimenter’s consent?
July 1, 2020 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Here’s the scenario: you’re talking at work with coworker A or maybe a superior when coworker B comes up in conversation, and coworker A says something really nice about them, like how they work so hard or do a great job or they’re so friendly etc. Is it inappropriate to later tell coworker B that coworker A had really nice thing xyz to say about them without explicitly asking for coworker’s A permission to share? Does this scenario differ at all if it’s in a social rather than a professional context?
posted by masters2010 to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Unless coworker A has explicitly said not to share that information, I think it’s fair game and generally a nice thing to do. I’ve had many conversations, professional and social, where I have been the you in this situation, as well as the coworker B. And it’s always been well received. And when I’m coworker A, generally if it’s something secret or sensitive, I won’t bring it up unless I specifically ask for discretion.

So I think this is more than okay to do, unless there’s other factors at play!
posted by firei at 7:06 PM on July 1 [15 favorites]

I say share the compliment, because no one should be afraid to take ownership of praise.

That is, If someone doesn't want a compliment shared, there's something bigger going on. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:10 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]

Barring any particular extenuating circumstances (I can't think of an example offhand, but probably anything where the compliment pertains to some subject that's particularly fraught for either A or B), I think this is the rare form of gossip that makes everyone involved come away feeling better about each other.
posted by eponym at 7:13 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]

I do.

Once in a while there’s a compliment you can’t share because it’s tied up in private info about the discussion, or is awkward for other reasons, but you’ll know in that case.
posted by sallybrown at 7:28 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]

I say, share the compliment but do so in broad strokes. “So-and-so mentioned to me the other day how much they enjoyed working with you!” is fine but if you get too into the details, I think it can make a person feel like they’ve been talked about. And you never know what their side of the relationship is like. Sharing particular details almost always backfires because it’s a game of telephone at that point.
posted by amanda at 7:31 PM on July 1 [11 favorites]

Mmmostly this is fine but there are some shades to it.

In a work setting, if the complimentor, A, is senior to the complimentee B, then this is fine and good. It's lovely to hear through the grapevine that your grandboss thinks you're a good addition to the team or that your internal client is impressed with you, or anything like that.

if the complimentor A is a peer or junior to B, then it's maybe ok and maybe not so great. Because imagine this:

"A thinks you're super smart! In this morning's meeting he was like whoa, B is so smart."
"ugh that guy is a kissass, why's he talking about me?"

if it's social, I think there's even more potential awkwardness:

"A was just saying she thinks you're super cool!"
"I barely know her. Why were you guys talking about me?"

You get the idea. If it's stuff you know that B is proud of I think it's always fine to pass a compliment along, like "A was saying what a great writer you are." But if it's anything personal... just think carefully first.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:47 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]

I've been you, person B, and possibly person A in this scenario.

If the complementer (person A) is someone higher on the org chart to person B, and especially if they're superior to you and is someone that person B doesn't have regular professional interaction with, then definitely pass along the complement, with attribution. "My boss's boss Jessica thinks you're awesome, and went out of her way to tell me why... way to go!"

If A and B are peers and both report to you, I might say something more along the lines of "others on the team have been telling me how awesome you are, just to make sure that I know (which I do, but I'm glad that they do too), and one person in particular went so far as to say ${details}, more or less, and I thought you'd like to hear that". I'm not a big fan of giving attribution among peers, for the social reasons described in other answers.

If peers give each other compliments exclusively through their boss, it's usually because there's an underlying reason that they didn't do so directly, and you should respect that, while still passing it along. There's a reason that person A told you, after all.
posted by toxic at 9:18 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]

At my current employer - the few times i've had any kind of coworker-B type of experience, it's been a weird, skin-crawling, o-shit-what-have-they-been-saying? kind of feeling.

But thinking back to my old job - yeah that would usually have been a nice warm glow. So it's situational. Coworker B needs to have a whole lot of pre-existing trust in the bona fides of all the other parties, for it to go down well. If that's not the case, prob best not to go there.
posted by rd45 at 12:43 AM on July 2

I personally try to avoid putting words in other people's mouths, even if it's good things.
posted by Candleman at 2:22 AM on July 2 [6 favorites]

I was in a similar situation on a phone call yesterday and asked A (who was a vendor of ours, not a coworker) if I could share their compliments with B (a coworker of mine, I'm not their supervisor). A said "Sure!" and I emailed B, cc'ing HER supervisor because that takes away the awkwardness of B having to brag that they received a compliment.

My asking gave A the agency of choosing if their words could be shared, which is nice because some people like to know that a conversation with you, alone is a conversation with you alone.
posted by kimberussell at 5:57 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]

It is extremely normal and very nice to pass on a compliment in a workplace setting, especially if you are senior to the person being complimented.
posted by capricorn at 6:56 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]

Which isn't to say that I wouldn't tell someone that people are saying good things about them, I just wouldn't specify who.
posted by Candleman at 7:51 AM on July 2

I value my reputation as somebody who can be talked to in confidence enough to have cultivated the habit of never passing on anything person A says to me about person B without A's explicit permission to do so.

So if, during the original conversation, I'd had the wit to say to A something like "I agree; B is awesome. Mind if I tell them you said so?" and A had told me to go ahead, then I'd pass it on; otherwise not.

This policy has rendered my life remarkably free of counterproductive interpersonal drama.
posted by flabdablet at 9:34 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]

Passing along praise should not be your default, but should be carefully considered for each individual situation -- even if you have specifically been given permission! And you might not want to repeat the praise verbatim, or immediately, or necessarily say who said it.

Sometimes it's necessary, "Hey occasional Subcontractor, Boss saw your work on other thing and was so impressed because XYZ, Boss wants to hear more about options to do something along those lines on our next project with you"

Sometimes (not in most workplaces, more in social and interpersonal contexts) it could be weaponized gossip that the person speaking what seems like praise is hoping you will repeat to their target. If you tend to default to passing on praise exactly and immediately, you are a "gossip", people will seek you out to manipulate you in this way. I don't know what exactly you meant by "okay" in your question but just because someone who told you something is happy to have you repeat it does not mean that you should.

People have touched on a lot of the workplace status based dynamics of praise above. In social situations passing along praise can touch on status in a weird way, and should be done with care.

I don't think you need explicit permission to share all praise in a social context. A few examples: "A had an emergency and had to leave suddenly, but when I was talking to them they were having a great time at your party and said the decorations you made were so beautiful", "I think B would be happy to be invited, B said they really enjoyed your conversation after I introduced you last week"
posted by yohko at 11:45 AM on July 2

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