“You did a great job during the rough transitional years of this organization,” I said. “Your relaxed, calming personality helped settle other people down.”

The ten other people at the board room table nodded in affirmation. It was good, praising him, for what he had done,  especially considering the fact that he would be leaving our leadership team at the end of the year. Affirmations and goodbyes, like peanut butter and jelly, go well together.  He smiled. He looked pleased. I  was glad I said it. Every authentic compliment is a facelift. The art of giving and receiving compliments — it’s a fundamental and powerful social skill. The well-phrased compliment, like the water lily, graces the whole pond.

“I love you,” I told my wife this morning, “I love your brain.” I’ve told her this before. “You are such a good thinker,” I continued. “It is an honor to live with someone as  insightful as you. You  get it right so much of the time.” I said this because she had just gotten it right, in our discussion of one of our daughters, and I said it because it was true, and because I’ve learned to always compliment the people who feed me —  better food!

Compliments are good, fun, needed, but they can also be complicated.

Someone complimented a talk I gave recently. I think they meant to say, “I want you to like me.” I do like them, but they may not know it. Perhaps I need to tell them more.

Ingratiation is a term coined by social psychologist Edward E. Jones, and it refers to a social behavior in which one person attempts to become more likeable to someone else. Ingratiation is accomplished by complimenting the targeted person, by adopting their values and mannerisms or by promoting oneself to gain the favor of the targeted one. We have probably all complimented someone to their face, or we have complimented ourselves in someone’s presences, in order to win their approval. It’s normal, but that kind of praise is partly a lie, just dressed up in a suit and tie.

To avoid the dangers of phoniness, we might ask before we affirm, “Why do I want to compliment this person?  Is there a real accomplishment to acknowledge, or am I just trying to ingratiated myself to them?”

Winning each others’ favor is good, but the means of doing that involve getting to know each other authentically, over the long haul, not candy coating our relationships with manipulative praises. Those  people who we grow to like gradually — those whose delicious personalities we come to savor like slow-cooked soup  —  they become our true friends.

All this to say,  it is wise to run our words through a meshed sieve of honesty before we release them. If we don’t, a weirdness may enter some of our relationships, and this may bite us, over time.

The smoothest, most ingratiating person I ever knew turned out to be the most dangerous to me. Resentments were cloaked in social niceties. But I  learned, we all do,  from the way it’s not supposed to go. And as we go through the process of learning how to put our affirmations in proper form, we will do well to avoid becoming cynical. The good resident in the authentic praise of others is not sullied by the occasional experiences of social cloaks that hide verbal daggers.

Most compliments are good! Deserved compliments are wonderful; authentic compliments are life-giving. Valid compliments are the entrée of the soul. An affirmed person —  who can hold them back! I know that for myself, I write, in part, because of the praise I have received for it.

Applaud, appreciate, praise, endorse and commend  — more! Please, I beg you, tell the people who have done well that they have done well.

I heard somebody tell a friend who was going through a mess, ” I believe in you. You’re the real deal!” The person who was complimented had made a serious mistake, but that affirmation helped carry them on through it. They made the wrong, right and moved on. They were the real deal. The compliment was solid and true.

It is needed that we compliment our friends and family and coworkers. It is likely that their mothers or fathers failed to tell them that they were good enough, and we must make up for that, so that these loved ones can relax a bit, and calm down, and not go socially wacky,  and so that they can stop over-achieving, and in just the right time become all that they can be and more.

  1. Ralph P. says:

    Thank you for your insight into the matter of how we compliment others. My own experience as giver and receiver of compliments confirms what you say.

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