Reality Check: Finding the Courage to Compliment

Do you feel weird when giving someone a compliment? If so, you’re not alone. I know this because Dan Pink, best-selling motivational author, created a short video on “How to compliment people without feeling like a weasel.”
This sounds a trifle uncomplimentary about weasels, but it does suggest that some people are uncomfortable about giving compliments.
But why? Fear of imperfection can be an inhibitor. How embarrassing for us if we don’t say the perfect thing in the perfect way. Maybe we’re concerned that the compliment will go to their head or they’ll think we want something from them.
Yet another excuse could be that we think we’ll be perceived as weak if we get into the habit of complimenting people. When I appreciate a quality of yours, does that suggest that I’m lacking in it? Does my recognition of you reflect negatively on me?
The reality is that it can take courage to express genuine compliments. I’ll share a personal workplace example.
George was a mentor to many. Literally a gentle giant, he would roam the halls and check that operations were running smoothly. He ensured that everyone knew that he was available to help and ready to do whatever he could to help people provide an effective service to our customers.
Along the way, George expressed his gratitude and gave compliments whenever he saw that it was warranted.
For example, when someone made an extra effort or went beyond expectations, it was not unusual for him to say, “Thank you. We are fortunate to have you here.” George never seemed self-conscious when he told someone that their contribution was valuable.
On he would go throughout his day. Smiling, questioning, engaged in whatever work was being done. Everyone knew that no question posed to George was off-limits and any suggestions for improving the work would be considered.
Different workplaces have different cultures, of course. In the rough-and-tumble environment of this workplace, George was an anomaly. Compared to others, he may have been perceived as a bit indulgent, what with his going round telling “his” people how good they are. Other leaders used authority, even fear. George inspired no fear.
Leadership by fear can be confused with strong leadership. Fear ensures that people don’t talk back. They do what they are told, and are reminded that they should be grateful that they have a job. They may grumble when they get home and look for friendlier workplaces, but on the job, a fearful environment can result in a compliant workforce. It doesn’t require courage to lead a compliant group, does it?
A gentler style of leadership includes complimenting people. It requires courage to be gentle, especially in an environment where a lack of fear could be mistaken for a lack of respect.
Regardless, mustering the courage to compliment could be worth it. We may be inclined to think that a compliment or recognition has little influence, but it may have greater impact than we realize.
Although this is a workplace example, the principle applies to social and family relationships too.
I am grateful to Mary for reminding me of George’s habit of complimenting and recognizing the people around him, and the courage that’s needed to do so.
Do you find it easy to compliment people? Or is it awkward and weird?

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