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The Power of the Compliment

Posted by Peter Post  August 22, 2013 07:00 AM

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I received a letter in the mail the other day. That in itself was a moment to relish. I get tons of emails every day including some that aren’t spam. But I don’t get letters very often. If my surprise and interest in the letter is any indication of how others might react to what has become an unusual event, perhaps more of us should consider sending real letters more often in order for that message to stand out.

But, I digress.

The letter itself was very complimentary about Essential Manners for Men, 2nd Edition. As I read and reread the letter, I was reminded about the power of the compliment. I spend a lot of time talking about rudeness and the destructive nature of negative messages, but not much time talking about positives. And compliments are a great form of the positive.

Thing to consider when giving a compliment:

  • Sincerity matters. Compliments should be heartfelt as they are delivered. A monotone “Nice job” doesn’t cut it. But an enthusiastic “Nice job. I know you worked hard on the project,” does.
  • Better yet, focus on something specific. “I really appreciate your effort” is pretty nebulous. “The extra hours and care you took with the XYZ contract really made a difference. Great work!” is much better. It shows you really noticed and weren’t just tossing out a compliment.
  • You can offer your boss a compliment once in a while, too. Just be careful: Too often and it can look like you’re brownnosing. Focus your compliment on how it helped you to understand how to handle a situation better. “Mr. Smith, the way you resolved that problem with XYZ in the meeting was impressive. I never would have thought of that, and I learned something.”
  • As a boss, if you give a compliment verbally, consider putting it in writing as well so the recipient has a record of it and can bring it up at the next review.
  • Don’t over use complements by giving too many. They should be parceled out carefully. Give them too freely and too frequently and you lose the sincerity that is so important to a good compliment.

Many times when people receive a compliment, they don’t know how to respond. So they end up diminishing it: “It was nothing” or “It really didn’t make a difference.” They may respond that the compliment wasn’t really deserved. Or, in their embarrassment they may actually say nothing. None of these responses is appropriate. Nor is there a need to answer it with a compliment in return.

The best response when given a compliment is a sincere, “Thank you.”

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

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