Thursday, January 2, 2014

Petey's dating manual: Revisiting compliments

I wrote about how to compliment people a while ago. Unsurprisingly, I didn't say everything that there is to be said on the subject. Here are a few more ideas for how to build people up.

Give compliments when they are due

Compliments come most naturally when we are impressed with someone. Generally, it is in that moment that we notice and feel that we should compliment people. Expressing ourselves while our emotions are fresh allows us to be sincerely enthusiastic about what we say and that additional energy can make a world of difference in how our compliments are received.

Often, we feel the need to give compliments when none occurs to us. There are any number of social situations where a compliment would come in handy; most particularly, when someone else has said something kind and we want to reciprocate. But this need is more like a guideline than a real rule and giving compliments that we don't really mean can backfire easily.

This problem is sometimes chronic rather than acute: it's not one kind word that causes us to feel indebted, but a pattern. If the feeling of debt induces us to kind actions, it may be healthy; if it fills us with guilt or stress, it probably isn't.

Also, it is perfectly acceptable to be flustered on occasion – especially if the reason you're flustered is because someone said something unexpectedly kind.

Give compliments at the right time

Although it's advisable to give compliments in the moment, some compliments are best saved for more appropriate moments. Usually, this refers to social context: a particularly personal comment is generally best reserved for a personal context. On the other hand, it's easy to wait indefinitely, hoping for some perfect moment. There is a happy medium to be found.

It's necessary to save compliments if they are to be given at these appropriate moments. But while it is wise to wait for the right moment, it is unwise to hoard compliments in hopes of being prepared. In my experience, helping people to see their value builds trust and friendship. People usually react by opening up further, allowing further insight into their character. This insight, in turn, shows additional characteristics that merit validation. In other words, don't worry about running out of compliments.

Give compliments about things that matter to you

Compliments are most sincere when they concern something personal and when that something matters to the validator. When talking with people, consider what characteristics you value most about them and focus on those traits when speaking about them.

Give compliments boldly

It is impossible to give an effective compliment without being a little bit vulnerable; after all, good compliments demonstrate what we value most about people. As a form of self-expression, it is inherently risky. The fear of rejection holds back far too many kind words (and corn dogs).

Don't listen to that fear. Choose to say kind things, even if there's a chance that you'll be ignored or even insulted for it. The rewards for being kind far outweigh the risks.

Thank people for their compliments

When someone validates us, our conditioned reaction is to return the compliment. While there is nothing wrong with giving a compliment back, consider simply thanking the person who said something kind. This demonstrates an appreciation that a returned compliment doesn't always show. In fact, it's really hard to go wrong with the words "thank you" in most circumstances.

Occasionally repeat compliments

We don't often repeat our compliments. Perhaps it is fear of seeming to value one thing too much or fear of appearing insincere. We should be judicious about it, but repeating things we've said – or rephrasing them – is vital for many relationships. Be careful about repetition, but don't avoid it completely out of fear.

Practice makes perfect

Don't expect yourself to have a great gift at complimenting people right from the start. As with anything, it takes practice. The great thing about complimenting people is that they care much more about your intent than they do about the things you say. In fact, bungled compliments can be pretty endearing. And it is an extremely rare person who will object to your practicing the art of validation on them, so go for broke.

Give compliments for the right reasons

Most importantly, we should ensure that our motivations are good. Complimenting someone out of social necessity is fine, but it is much better to build someone up out of a desire to help that person be happy or to build confidence. This idea generalizes as well as gratitude does: if your motivation is to make someone else happy, you'll go right most of the time.