The skills of giving and receiving are more important than we sometimes realize. Being able to do both effectively is part of what keeps us connected to our entire community, and actually helps us stay healthy as well as happy.
Since compliments are free, they are a universal gift we can all give regardless of our material circumstances. Anyone can give a compliment at pretty much any time, and without ever running out of their supply of potential new compliments. So they’re a great example to use when addressing the idea of the flow of giving and receiving in life.
People give compliments for professional, personal, and social reasons. On a personal level, we give compliments to let people in our lives know that they’re appreciated, admired, respected, etc.
In professional settings, compliments can be a bit trickier. Compliments to bosses may be about you genuinely just wanting to let them know how highly you think of them, and how much you admire and respect the job they are doing. Your sincerity allows you to feel good delivering the message, and it can be received in the same way.
A more complicated situation, however, is if you look for opportunities to compliment your boss in the hopes that she or he will look upon you with favor when it comes time for a raise or a promotion. These sorts of compliments carry with them a hidden agenda, and that changes the whole scenario. Why? Because just as giving a gift with a hidden agenda changes the dynamic of the transaction to create an outstanding “obligation” on the part of the recipient, the same is true when you’re giving a “loaded” compliment.
In the latter case, you may swear that the acknowledgment you are giving is worded so as to be free from any hint of expectation, but – trust me – if you’re strategizing or feeling hopeful, people can pick up the faintest whiff, and it sours the whole transaction.
What if You’re the Boss?
On the other hand, maybe you’re the boss and you want to acknowledge a job well done. Your bestowing of compliments on an employee might carry with it a whole different complication: the feeling of being obligated to demonstrate your sincerity by also giving the recipient an extra raise or promotion. Would that make you a little less likely to give that otherwise well-meaning compliment?
Or worse, maybe you’re afraid that, if acknowledged as being a good performer, you may be helping an employee to rise up through the ranks and end up above you in the hierarchy, or even – horror of horrors! – take over your job. Such “office politics” can effectively squelch nice impulses such as giving compliments, for fear of inadvertently helping someone else’s career and shooting your own in the proverbial foot!
In that situation it’s important to search our own heart and be honest about both our admiration for the team member’s actions and our fears that make us feel self-protective about our own career success. Finding an authentic balance, so that you don’t have to squash your good intentions, may actually enhance your leadership profile.
What if You Need to Compliment Someone You Really Don’t Care For?
Here’s another challenging situation. What if someone you don’t admire happens to do a great job on something, and it’s your responsibility to acknowledge them? Can you learn to separate out your personal feelings from the act that is being acknowledged? Or do you believe that you have to genuinely like someone to compliment them?
It’s important not to stop seeing the good in people, and thereby negate their good actions, simply because we don’t believe that person is generally worthy of our high regard. At the same time, it’s not a good idea to just “say something nice” when you don’t mean it.
When you can acknowledge to yourself your inner conflicts, struggles and/or uncertainties, you can become clear about what you want to say. Then your message can be delivered honestly and directly.
We go back to the all important question: “What is your desired outcome?” What is it you really want to communicate? Can you separate out your personal feelings toward this person and sincerely appreciate what he has done… and without waiting for a return compliment?
As always, it’s important for you to STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! Trust that your message is worth delivering. Then be willing to deliver it with a full and open heart, with no strings attached. Allow the compliment to stand on its own, to be appreciated and acknowledged. After all, not only is the person’s action worth validating, but you deserve to feel the pleasure of giving a compliment straight from your heart. Allow yourself to feel good that you’ve noticed and acknowledged something worthwhile in another.
Relationships Need Balance, Which Takes Awareness on Our Part
All too often we’re quick to criticize and condemn, and we forget to acknowledge and compliment the good things. Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember:
The right to criticize carries with it the responsibility to compliment.
That means you must pay attention to what’s happening that’s good, and not just the bad stuff. This can be easier said than done!
We all learn to be masters at recognizing and responding to the things that go wrong – have you noticed that? Those problematic, annoying things in life stand out like sore thumbs, commanding our attention whether we like it or not.
In contrast, we all need more practice looking for and acknowledging those moments when things go really well; to notice when someone does something kind, helpful or beneficial. And then we need to practice stopping, breathing and complimenting those behaviors.
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I’ll address the wholly different challenge of receiving in my next post. For now I just want to point out that practicing the fine art of giving and receiving compliments will add a great deal of joy to your life. As you get better at both, you will find it immeasurably easier to feel more light more positive in your life in general.
So practice focusing on all the things around you that you could sincerely compliment. Then take a deep breath, and give those compliments a voice!