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Ask Erin: How do I give sincere compliments?

How do you craft a compliment? After enjoying your article, Kindness is Contagious, I realized that your sincerity came through and changed that room because of the details you spoke. I’d be more likely to say, “I like your hair,” and leave it at that. I have not had good results with this, and as such I (unfortunately) withhold my compliments more often than not. Do you have any pointers for communicating such that the sincerity is received? I am NOT interested in trying to disguise idle flattery. – Joe

First I think it’s great that you want to try to get better at complimenting people. It shows you’re trying to improve, and spread kindness, which is admirable. Not many people would put this kind of effort into doing something that will ultimately benefit other people. Now, what I just gave you was a sincere compliment and I didn’t really need to stretch to do it. It’s just part of my nature now because I’ve done it a lot. All it takes is practice. Here are some pointers to get you going: First, think of what behavior or attribute you’d like to compliment. Let’s say you see a guy with a really decked out car and you’d love to take a closer look. What you’re thinking is, “Wow, that’s a cool car.” Why? Why is it cool? What’s so cool about it? The color? The wheels? The rear spoiler? Add that to the compliment forming in your head. Now add something that connects your compliment to the person you’re giving it to. Like, “I’ll bet that guy cares about his car a lot and probably put a lot of effort into decking it out so it would be totally awesome. He’s probably got a lot of pride in his car.” Add that to your compliment too.

Now you’re ready to share your thought. You walk up to the guy and say, “Wow, I just had to take a moment to let you know how much I’m admiring your car here. The combination of that rear spoiler and the chrome finish on your wheels really caught my eye. You must have put some time and effort into choosing your options and it shows. I’d love to have a closer look.” Someone who takes that kind of pride in their car will probably be happy to show you.

The same technique will work for any compliment. Figure out what you like and why and tie it in to the person’s emotions or pride. Be sincere. Even if your compliment is as simple as “I like your hair” you could say, “Your hair is beautiful. I must say it has quite captivated me.” And smile. That goes a long way.

Above all, just practice. You’ll get better over time. And remember, even a simple but sincere compliment is more than most people are willing to give out.

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