Do You Have a Compliment? Give It!

To my shame, I leave a lot of compliments/verbal affirmations unspoken, especially to those I love the most. And I want that behaviour to change because I know I’m overlooking the power of (genuine) compliments.

A few months ago I wrote about an unexpected incident in a checkout line at the DollarStore. I was masked, as were all the people around me, and I wasn’t expecting an interaction of any sort. But then the woman behind me leaned forward to say how much she admired my earrings.

By all accounts, this was a tiny gesture. I wasn’t overly chatty in lineups before the pandemic. I’m introverted and, rightly or wrongly, tend to hibernate in big social settings (including the chaos that is checkout lines).

But that comment? It made my day.

I thanked her, told her my husband had bought them for me (which she seemed to find particularly endearing), and we went our separate ways.

But here I am writing about that compliment. Months later.

I felt particularly sorry for cashiers during this pandemic. They interact with a steady stream of people all day while standing on their feet in masks. It must have been especially exhausting and scary in early days pre-vaccine.

I typically visit our town’s small grocery store several times a week. One cashier always looked especially tired. She was clearly apprehensive about her front-facing position and wore 3-layered masks long before it was the standard recommendation. Sadly, I’ll admit I still don’t know her name, but she stands out to me because she had the nicest masks.

Every time I ended up in her lineup I made a point to comment on how seeing her and her beautiful masks (such pretty patterns!) was a bright point in my shopping experience. And every single time her eyes would light up and she’d tell me where she bought them (a local farmers market) and that taking the time to source nice masks was a big boost to her spirits.

My compliment was entirely genuine – her masks were lovely and I did notice. But it would have been easy to mumble “Debit please” and scamper out of the store, leaving the compliment unspoken.

And so often I do leave compliments unspoken. Why?

I went out to coffee with a new friend recently and she wore a simple – but lovely – sweater. It was a shade of blue I can’t properly do justice; rich, warm, bright, and happy (because I think “happy” is a great colour descriptor). She wore matching earrings; paired with casual jeans it was a perfect outfit. The entire time we were together I kept thinking about how well the whole ensemble suited her. But it felt…awkward to say anything. I haven’t known her very long and how do you even inject that information into a short conversation?

At the end of an hour, when she got up to leave, I finally got up the nerve to blurt out: “That sweater and colour look great on you.

Not surprisingly, she looked elated to receive this compliment. Maybe she didn’t think anything about her outfit when she left the house or maybe she spent a long time curating it. Either way, it looked fabulous…so why not tell her?

I know there is a fine line between patronizing comments and true compliments. I try to be authentic, but sometimes it can be about quality AND quantity and I’m determined to work on both.

And I think that’s where attention plays such a central role. When we’re on the lookout for the good and the beautiful in life – for the magical way the lights blur when I take off my glasses to look at the Christmas tree, for the reset that comes from sitting down at a table with a bowl of comfort food and some candles – we can be more open to seeing and sharing that delight with others.

Compliment God – look at the beautiful blue sky, listen to the crashing of the waves, taste a delicious meal and thank Him for being such a great Creator. Compliment your spouse – for their outfit or gorgeous eyes or romantic gesture. Compliment your children – on their beautifully illegible place cards or on giving the best bedtime hugs or for their empathetic response to a sad friend. Compliment someone’s earrings or their hard-to-describe-happy-blue sweater.

And if you see someone wearing a beautiful mask, go ahead and compliment them too and thank them for injecting beauty into the world in a simple way.

Your turn. What’s the nicest compliment someone has paid you recently? How did it make you feel?

FYI: The earrings I reference are the top left pair in this picture. Simple, but one of my favourites with sparkly Swavorski crystals.

Header photo by eleni koureas on Unsplash

23 thoughts on “Do You Have a Compliment? Give It!”

  1. As I pondered this, I too leave far too many compliments unsaid. I do say thank you often but to specifically compliment, especially people I don’t know, feels awkward to me. I’m not the bubbly person that seems to draw people toward them and have “easy” conversation. That said, my last compliment was to my students as we near the end of an online semester and how they have persisted when it’s not easy for them to learn online. I have tried consciously complimenting my family more, but specific compliments aren’t popping into my head. I think I will track that for a couple of weeks just to see if I’m doing it as much as I think I am!

    1. It does feel awkward to me, especially in certain contexts. And Ally commented below about how compliments can also be misconstrued and taken negatively…so it’s a tough balance.
      Too often, though, I THINK a compliment (that I know the person would take as a compliment), but don’t verbalize it. Even to people I know well. I’m not sure why, but I really want to work to change that.

  2. “I know there is a fine line between patronizing comments and true compliments. I try to be authentic, but sometimes it can be about quality AND quantity and I’m determined to work on both”. This is so very true Elisabeth. I think it is a balance all the time, if we gave out compliments all the time they would no longer have any value but to not do it at all is not healthy either.

    Personally I think that thanking people is a form of complimenting people especially those that we might not normally thank for doing what they perceive to be everyday tasks. I, like you, was incredibly appreciative of all the folks who worked to make our worlds still turn during the pandemic. Thanking them for doing this was important to me.

    I cannot remember the exact words but a recent compliment from a friend was about how supportive I was, how I was good at listening, really listening and how I had helped her to see a way through a difficult situation without telling her what to do. These are all things that I aspire to so I do love it when I get it right.

    I hear you on the being introvert and not finding giving out compliments very easy but the way a face lights up when you do it is worth all the build up that we have to go through to get to that point. I feel it getting easier too!

    1. A great point. Giving too many compliments can make them seem less special. Perhaps too often, though, we err on the side of caution? Personally, I know I do. And it depends on the personality of the people you’re complimenting.
      The compliment on my earrings came from a perfect stranger (who didn’t know if I liked compliments or how I would take it), but if we’re complimenting someone we know well, we might be able to get a sense for how much they are positively impacted by compliments?

      To ME, being thanked definitely borders on being complimented, but I know others don’t perceive this in the same way. I guess the difference might be thanking someone for something they do in a manual sense (thanks for cleaning the table) vs (thanks for working so hard to keep everything looking so neat and tidy. I’ve always admired that in you?).

      But then, again, someone might not take that as a compliment! So just because we intend something to be a compliment doesn’t mean it’s going to register as a complicated. I’m making this harder than it needs to be, right!?

  3. You’re right that we should say more compliments. I admit that I’m reticent more now than I used to be. People are touchy about everything it seems and I worry I’ll be considered rude instead of kind. In some circles commenting, even positively, about someone’s looks/attire is not encouraged.

  4. I love this post. Because I’m an introvert and I was very shy growing up (the older I get the less shy I am, but it’s still there) my default is to say as little to people as possible. But lately I’ve been trying to interact more, and give people little compliments when I can. Recently I was at Starbucks, and when I placed my order the guy asked for my name, I said “Jenny” and he said “Oh, what a beautiful name!” Seriously…. “Jenny” is a beautiful name? I think he might have been stretching it a little, but he seemed sincere and it actually did give me a little jolt of pleasure. It takes hardly any extra energy to give someone a little compliment, but if it gives someone a moment of pleasure, it’s worth it.

    1. I think Jenny is a beautiful name. It conjures up the sense of someone that is bubbly and bright (it makes me think of sunshine and someone that smiles a lot).
      It also rolls off the tongue easily and feels approachable (easy to pronounce and write). I’ve also known several Jenny’s/Jennie’s and they have all just been absolutely wonderful people!
      Yup. Jenny is a fabulous name 🙂

  5. The last compliment I can remember getting is after my board presentation on Saturday. The client and my coworkers complimented me, but since I am so hard on myself, my thought process is that ‘of course they have to say that.’ Which is really too bad because I should just take the compliment as is and not spin it! The sweetest compliments for me are ones from our 4yo. He will tell me I look pretty or that I am funny or things like that.

    I am a words of affirmation person so compliments/positive feedback are so important to me, and I try to reciprocate and look for opportunities to compliment others but there are definitely times that doesn’t happen. For my husband, words of affirmation is #4 out of 5 for him for love languages (gifts is dead last for both of us!!). He is more of an acts of service kind of guy because he thinks talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. But there is room for both!

    1. Another great point (and not something I considered too much in this post) but as the recipient of a compliment…how often do we take the comment as being genuine/assume people feel obligated to say something. I’d guess most of the time people really are being genuine, but we sell this short?

      My #1 is also acts of service; gifts are definitely #5 for me. Love languages can be so hard to classify to me, though, because I consider time spent together with someone even if we’re working on different tasks (say on the kids is reading silently on the couch next to me) quality time. But others don’t necessarily classify those same activities as being “quality time.” Going through the whole Love Languages framework is an enormous topic…!

  6. I actually think I’m pretty good at giving compliments!! Like you, sometimes I feel awkward about it though, like people might think it’s either fake or just silly. I have definitely approached random people and said, “ooh, I love that jacket!” or things like that. They usually do smile and seem happy, so I dunno! Hopefully they don’t think I’m a creeper. lol!!

    I also like to compliment people working in stores/ restaurants/ etc. if I can. Or go above them to their manager to say how fantastic an employee was. One time we asked for the manager at a restaurant, and the server got all nervous. When we said, “we just want to tell them how fabulous of a job you did!” they looked very relieved. haha!

    Another good way to compliment people or services is to leave a review! I try to remember to do this. I feel like bad reviews tend to outweigh the good ones, so if I’m impressed by something, I really try to make a point to leave an online review.

    1. Great points and I’m so glad you’ve made this a regular habit!!
      Honestly, I think people (in general) are starved for human connection so I suspect even random compliments mean even more than you know.

  7. can’t agree more! complement is free but it makes two person feel good. I started to be more mindful of giving complements mainly because it makes me feel uplift. Giving is rewarding more than receiving, 🙂

  8. I like giving compliments, but i am still having hard time receiving any. It shouldn’t be so hard just to say “thank you”, but instead i keep saying something like “Oh, i have had this outfit for years!”. I am sure it does says something about me, i am just not certain what it is exactly.

    My all-time favorite compliment was received in a department store. It was one of those rare occasions when i took both my boys to the store (which literally almost never happens, because i do my “quick run through the store” in the mornings after the school drop off). As we were browsing through the store, i mentioned that two ladies were kind of following us. Then one of them get closer and said: “We are just following you because we like to listen how you interact with your kids. You are such a good parent”. Me being me, of course instead of saying thank you, i had to downplay it and explain that I work for XYZ hospital/nonprofit, and as an employee i was given a free parenting course. I have since try to pay-it-forward, and always compliment someone’s parenting whenever i can 🙂

    1. It can be hard to “accept” a compliment and not try to rebutt it, even if the person is very sincere in what they’re saying. I think that’s a fairly typical reaction?

      I’ve had strangers compliment my parenting a few times and agree – it really is so affirming (especially since I really feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants/failing so much of the time)!!
      Regarding your specific example: even if you had taken a course, it means you took things to heart and worked hard to implement them practically in your own life/with your children which means you are an intentional parent. Either way you cut it, it’s a great, multi-layered compliment that falls right on your shoulders! Well done, Irina.

  9. I feel like complimenting is much more common in the US than it is/was in Germany, so it’s not something I would randomly do with strangers, although I have found a nice compliment to be very uplifting and have long since tried to give more compliments myself.
    I find it easier to compliment people that I know (kind comments to people we know are a lot easier), but I feel like compliments from or to strangers are sometimes even more special. It’s a nice way to say “I see you, I see what you do, I see your presence in the world”.

    Keep complimenting away!

    1. Even the smallest compliment can make a huge impact. I guess we never know, either. Like the woman who complimented my earrings likely didn’t think about me remembering that compliment, but it stuck.
      Just like criticism sticks, compliments can too. So I’m aiming to up my compliments and, for the most park, bite my tongue on the criticisms.

  10. I love this! Since my primary love language is words of affirmation, I am very cognizant of acknowledging people and complimenting them. I’m not someone who compliments strangers often; I’m so socially awkward and it would feel weird, for some reason, though I know I love when I get a random compliment from a stranger. But I try to compliment friends and boost their spirits when possible.

    1. I don’t compliment strangers, really, either. Though I think with strangers this could extend, in a way, to just being pleasant. Saying hello or thank-you, in a genuine way, to the barista or the person you pass on the street. In this context – greeting or engaging with a stranger – feels out of the ordinary it today’s society (COVID aside).
      For me that’s where I try to focus my attention. I especially try to do this when I pass people walking on the sidewalk. I make eye contact and say Hello because…well…it just feels friendly and polite and a small step toward engaging with those around me?!

  11. Giving a compliment of such a easy and kind way to spread some kindness. I have been trying to do so more during the pandemic when I realize that everyone was just really grumpy and annoying.

    I can’t really say I remember a recent compliment but I remember the very best compliment I ever received. It was my husband eye prosthetic guy that said that I have very beautiful eyes with stars in them. This compliment still makes me smile and happy and all fuzzy inside.

  12. Oh, this is so interesting! I don’t often give compliments – I focus more on authentic (and enthusiastic) thank you’s. And, I do make an effort to learn peoples’ names (e.g., the name of the cashier who *always* checks me out at my store). But thank you’s, and being able to thank Mari (that’s her name) is not the same as calling out something special and actually *telling the person*. I may think it – like so many others -but don’t verbalize it enough. (Mari has the most beautiful long blonde hair and I always notice it, but never mention it!)
    And, I am terrible at taking compliments, like other commenters have mentioned they are, too. I don’t find much about myself to be worthy of being complimented, so I often feel as though they’re blowing smoke. Probably better, to be honest, to assume they’re being sincere! 🙂
    I am going to try to pay more attention to when I could give a compliment, and then maybe actually *share* it. Thanks for making me think of this!

    1. I have the weirdest thing with names; some stick SO well and then others (like a particular neighbour) are so slippery. It’s the strangest thing.
      And YES I think we should all assume people are being authentic/sincere.

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