Compliments: The kindest way to start a conversation or small talk.
Why it feels great to give and receive Compliments.
Giving a compliment is just a way of expressing your thanks, or showing someone that you appreciate them. There are fundamentally two types of compliments.
Compliments of this nature refer to the way that you look. So someone might compliment you on your hair, handbag or something that you are wearing.
These compliments are ones connected to what you can do well. More about that next week. Here is an article from Forbes that you might find interesting about how compliments can be compared to receiving cash.
No strings Attached
We have all received a compliment at some time or another and I think it is safe to say that it often makes us feel good, especially if you have the feeling there are ‘no strings attached’ or unconditional.
Unfortunately, some people use compliments to manipulate people or to break bad news. This is why compliments tend to be viewed by some with cynicism. What a shame that is!
I love giving people compliments and in the UK, I get the feeling that compliments are given more often and accepted more generously and openly than in say Germany or Finland. If you disagree, I would love to hear your examples and stories. I can include them in Tuesday’s Coffee with Coco.
Receiving compliments graciously isn’t rocket science, but failing to do so can definitely put a big barrier up between you and the person that you were just trying to be nice too.
I don’t compliment people on things just for the sake of it. If someone has a new haircut and I think it is terrible I won’t say anything. I was brought up with the saying
If you can’t say anything nice,
don’t say anything at all.
Take yesterday for example. I was at a Mompreneurs meeting and there was a lady there with a really simple but professional and yet comfortable looking outfit. Perhaps I should have made a photo. It was just a pair of loose trousers and jacket in black/grey and a yellow top. Now I am not normally into yellow, I am British and pale, so I tend to look dead in yellow, but this lady was blessed with dark hair and it looked — great! I told her so and she accepted the compliment with thanks and ease. I think I made her feel good.
I like to make someone feel good about themselves or appreciated in some way every single day. It was never a big decision or anything but to be honest it makes me feel good to make someone else feel good.
As they say in the UK “A compliment costs nothing”.
So how do you compliment someone?
“That’s a nice ….(handbag, shirt, blouse, pen)” etc
“Oh thank you.”
So you could stop there, couldn’t you?
What a wasted opportunity though!
The chances are that if you have the same taste in pens, bags, coats etc, that there are other parallels as well. Compliments are my absolute favourite routes into small talk.
Let me share a story with you…
There was a time when I used to sell Usborne books to international schools here in Berlin. I used to be known as the British Book Buddy so whilst the kids would get really excited about having brand new wonderful children’s books to look at, some parents were more cautious. After all I was there to sell something wasn’t I?
Now the great thing about kids is that they are not as cynical as grown ups or adults, they accept people for who they are and that is normally based on how that person treats them. Kids love you to show an interest in them and they love it to receive a compliment, especially little girls. I often only had a few seconds time to capture their attention and awaken their love of literature and lovely knowledge. The space between the pop-up book shop and the door was frighteningly small.
A simple comment like “That’s a pretty T-shirt” was enough to get their attention – there was me, just being kind, behind a sea of beautiful books. The compliment was enough to break the ice and that is what I love about compliments, they make strangers into acquaintances and only then can you move onto “know, like and trust”.
So what about the cynics though?
Well you know what, if someone has had a bad experience, you have to accept and respect that. Just imagine if you used to have a boss that used to pass you a compliment as he went past and then you would hear him ‘slagging you off’ or bad mouthing you behind your back, well that would put compliments in a completely different bag wouldn’t it?
Likewise if you had a boyfriend that used to pay you compliments all the time, bring your presents and make you feel a million dollars but then went and cheated on you, that would put a dampener on compliments too wouldn’t it.
You can’t change those experiences and perhaps in their hearts they would like to be able accept compliments more openly but you cannot force a compliment on anybody. You can’t make anybody like you either but if you have had compliments rejected in the past, don’t take it personally.
So as you can imagine when I came to Germany there were a few changes that I had to make to fit in here. First of all I am a very touchy feely person, which makes some people flinch. So that had to stop and the other thing was my gushing compliments.
Knowing that compliments were a great way to break the ice and keen to meet people I probably paid people a lot of compliments, bearing in mind that the fashion here is different, there are different brand, shops and labels that I had never come across, everything was new and exciting. I was finding my feet.
Sometimes though when I would pay someone a compliment (perhaps forgetting the du/Sie form on reflection) then I would be met with one of those scary stares. As if to say “How dare you speak to me!” Perhaps that wasn’t their intention but that is how it came over to me at the time (little insecure new girl on the block)
Sometimes people aren’t used to receiving compliments and simply won’t be able to find the right words at the right time. Don’t take it personally like I did, it is a waste of energy.
Resist playing it down
The other way of rejecting a compliment is to play it down. Now this is something that the feminist in me wants you to stop doing. If someone says to you
“That’s a pretty ring”
you can say
“Oh thank you” or if you would like to share a little nugget of background about the ring, you can say where you got it from, why you like it, whether it is one you wear all the time, if you enjoy wearing rings…. it’s small talk honey.
other people will say
“Oh it’s ancient, I have had it since….”
“It is scratched actually, look here…
or for a dress…
Here is a handy little reminder of how to show gratitude for and accept a compliment in a polite way. Check out the newsletter for the accompanying audio recording for you to listen to and repeat as often as you need to
To summarise then…
Give and receive compliments, it is good for the soul and for performance.
Please learn to accept a compliment and remember, we are all role models for our children, so when we are in front of our children it is even more important to accept gratitude so that our children can model our communication for their self confidence.
For a more indepth look at the language used for this topic of compliments, why not subscribe for my newsletter, where you will get a lesson to go with this blog post.Complimentary
We’ll be looking at words like Complimentary, compliant, complaint as well as support with learning to use the vocabulary in this blog, grammar, pronunciation, an audio recording of this blog and access to my Byte Sized English Bootcamp on Facebook, which is a secret group where you can practice and discuss with other HR professionals, entrepreneurs and ladies on the board.
Sign up for your newsletter today, to get vocabulary quizzes, grammar tips, pronunciation audio recordings, idioms, quotes, jokes and much more all around this week’s communication topic, “compliments”.
Each week, there is a new communication topic, to help you get your message across professionally and authentically to take your brand global.