Can You Spare It? Time to Dole out Some Compliments
When was the last time you received a compliment? For most of us, quite a while. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t cost a thing and it makes the recipient feel oh, so very good.
“I love your haircut.”
“That dress you wore looked great on you.”
“The dessert you served with a big bowl of fresh red raspberries and freshly whipped cream was just the best.”
As we retreated to our homes and hunkered down with family during COVID-19, we lost some of our social civility and forgot how nice it was to have someone recognize something about us or what we did and express it to us in person. Even if we went out in public, we were hidden under our masks feeling isolated and in our own world. Margaret remembers walking down the street in the early days of the pandemic and being so surprised to receive a compliment on the cloth mask that Barbara had sent her. It was a sign of the times.
Yes, many continued to post likes on FB or send hearts on Instagram, expressing a positive reaction to the bouquet of flowers we showed or our homemade bagels. But a digital mention is different from a face-to-face compliment with exuberant praise, the kind where a voice rises and there seems to be an exclamation point hanging in the air!
Now that we’re re-emerging publicly and getting more into our old routines, we think it’s time to dust off our pandemic ways and remember how good we feel when someone takes notice: “Would you mind me asking whose shoes those are, they’re absolutely darling.” Or “I just love your eyeglasses. Where did you get them or whose are they?”
Sadly, we also know people who find it tough to compliment, as if there were a limit on how many they can dole out. They never notice a new hair style, piece of furniture in our home, or all the nice things we do in the community where we both live. Or they only compliment us when we’ve complimented them, that tit-for-tat mentality.
Barbara recalls a newspaper article she wrote for a daily paper where she worked for many years. An editor called out one article each week he thought most worthy. One week hers on a traveling shoe salesman’s job was cited. She recalls one or two in the entire newsroom congratulating her. She wondered why. Was it envy, failure to read it, or did they not know how to be kind or what to say?
Currently when there’s so much sadness and illness all about, we should be spreading good will like confetti.
When compliments aren’t part of your repertoire how do you insert them? Here’s our technique. Try expressing one compliment a day, and when you see the reaction—a server gives you a free cappuccino or dessert--we bet the compliments will start rolling off your tongue. Thank your barista for the swirl of foam they made look extra good on your latte. Next time we bet they’ll add even more foam or give you a large size even if you ordered a small.
Tell your neighbor how nice they are about always asking how your dog is when you see them in the elevator or hallway. Tell the cashier at your grocery store how well they bagged your groceries, especially not putting the carton of eggs at the bottom, underneath the heavy box of detergent. Tell your seatmate at an art class you love the way she painted the mountains and sky. Tell the person on the tennis court how well they play. Use detail such as, “Your strategy at the net is wonderful to watch.” Specifics make it extra special, like writing a more personal thank you instead of the generic, basic, “Thanks for the gift.”
If you’re still unsure how to start, practice on a complete stranger. Say something for example, to a teenager who gives up a seat on the subway to an older person, “That was such a nice gesture. Your parents taught you well.”
And don’t take your family members and closest friends for granted. Remember to shower them with compliments, too. “Thanks for taking the time to unload the dishwasher and put away everything. That was really helpful.”
In turn, when you are complimented, know how to respond. Say nicely, “Thank you, that was so kind; it made me feel so good.”
Before long, complimenting is likely to become automatic. Try not to overdo it, however, or your compliments may come across as insincere or could backfire. A false compliment can create a bad taste on the tongue. For example, don’t compliment effusively your friend for making a certain recipe if you don’t like it since, if you do, you may get it every time you dine at their home.
A compliment to someone can make their day. “I love that color blue on you. It matches your eyes.” And as the person you complimented walks away feeling valued, they might compliment the next person they see and on and on. This is the type of virus we hope to spread in a healthy way.