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Beyond Appearance: The Best Ways to Give and Receive Compliments that Count

By Caitlin M. Ryan

Think about the last compliment you received. Did it catch you off guard? Was your knee-jerk reaction to deflect or minimize it? You’re not alone, if so. We tend to be highly uncomfortable accepting compliments, yet we can’t deny how nice they feel once we move through the initial surprise. In fact, studies find receiving a compliment fires up the reward center in our brain (the striatum) just the same as when awarded money. In other simplistic words, humans process compliments as a very special thing

Next time you’re meeting someone new or socializing among acquaintances or friends, notice how you all exchange compliments. They’re are commonly given, most especially among women, as a way to create zones of equality and solidarity. The feel-good transmission establishes a bond between people, creating a breeding ground for warmth, positivity, affirmation, and mutuality. Those kinds of killer vibes go on to conjure up stronger feelings of cooperation, creativity, camaraderie, and motivation. That’s one productive way to build a healthy tribe.

It’s worth stating that compliments don’t carry much weight if they’re insincere and used as bargaining chips for personal gain. To compliment is not to brown-nose. We’re encouraging these exchanges to come from a thoughtful place of respect and admiration. They’re short, to the point, and don’t require a great deal of planning and research. Finally, it’s important to accept them just as considerately as you give them.

To amplify the benefits of compliments, a few tips for staving off awkwardness and insecurity when on the receiving end:

  • Be humble – All you have to do is say, “Thank you, that’s really kind.” And let it soak in. 
  • Don’t compare – You do not need to prove anyone wrong by saying, “Oh, but you are so much better at it than I am!” 
  • Avoid self-deprecation – Don’t turn yourself into the punchline of a joke. You’re worth the recognition you receive.
  • Open your body up – Unfold your arms, soften your face, become a willing participant in the conversation.

Since compliments may as well be regarded as small but mighty psychological gifts, consider how much better it feels to give than receive. Challenge yourself to become practiced in recognizing the good in others, and diversify your arsenal with the following examples that having nothing to do with someone’s physical form or appearance. 

  • I loved how you interpreted that movie
  • The invitations you sent out for your birthday party were so creative
  • You could write your own cookbook, you’re so talented
  • I’m so impressed with how you handled that conversation 
  • The photos you just posted were so exciting to look at
  • That was a really insightful suggestion you made in the meeting
  • Your car smells so fresh today 
  • You plan such amazing lunches for work

Mark Twain famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Imagine what you could inspire in those around you if you became such a source of positivity. Its power is undeniable.