Why you should be complimenting more at work

When I was working at a college, my line manager, Keren, would request that I do various pointless administrative tasks.

One such task was surveys, that would be ignored.

This was the sort of stuff that stops lecturers from focusing on their core job, by giving them arbitrary box ticking exercises.

I’d sooner go for a swim in a swamp than walk around the college doing these surveys.

However, Keren would usually say something along the lines of: “I can’t do this as well as you.  You’ll get more responses.  They’ll know it’s a pain but you’ll make them laugh and the students like you.”

If she’d simply asked me to do the survey, I’d have started arguing.  However, with Keren’s words, it took a few moments for me to be won round.

That’s the power of praise.

You may think it’s manipulative.  And it can be.

Researchers carried out an experiment on a group of men in North Carolina, where they received comments about themselves from another person who needed a favour of them.

Some of these comments were positive, some negative, and others a mix of both.

The men receiving the positive comments liked their flatterer more – even when the men saw that the sweet-talker was only acting from personal interests.

They liked this person even when they knew the praise wasn’t totally accurate. (Drachman, deCarufel, & Insko, 1978).

Compliments work despite the fact that the flatterer was acting in self-interest.

Obviously, if you’re going to give insincere compliments every time you want a favour, there’ll soon come a point when all you’ll get is an eyeball roll, so use wisely.


Using compliments to improve the performance of others

Ensuring that compliments are consistent with the other person’s image of themselves or a particular detail you’ve noticed makes the praise more sincere.

I had a flatmate that was to washing up what The Game of Thrones is to realism.  She was also very proud of her thoughtfulness, a quality she was prone to mention regularly.

If I told her to wash up her own stuff, she became defensive.

So, I’d say something like, “Hannah, you’re so thoughtful.  It surprises me that that you left the dishes there.”  (No bloody surprise, of course.  She was an entitled little madam but saying that wouldn’t have cleaned the plates).

“Oh,” she’d say, with mock surprise, “I totally forgot.  I’ll do them now.”

It works because people like to act in keeping with the their self image.

How do you spot it?  Look and listen to what people pride themselves on.

According to this 2012 study, individuals perform better after receiving ‘social’ rewards i.e. praise.  So if you give a task to someone and point out the positives, the overall performance is likely to be better.  It also saves the company a ton of money….


Hold back on judgement

When praising, it’s almost automatic to add ‘..so that’s good’ e.g. “Jeff, you were on time again.  That’s really good.”

Research has shown that adding an evaluative judgement such as ‘it’s good’ or ‘well done’ is likely to harm performance, not enhance it.  So, describe what’s good but don’t judge it.

For example:

“You’re such a support in the team: always willing to help.  That’s good.”  This is evaluative so no…not good.

“You’re such a support in the team: always willing to help.”  That’s descriptive.  And that’s good!


Giving compliments is your feelgood tool

A compliment to someone else makes YOU feel better

A genuine compliment to others reinforces their value in the world simultaneously strengthens rapport and trust.

It’s an extremely powerful way of feeling good about yourself, at the same time as raising the self-esteem of others.

I’d go as far as saying it’s a leadership skill – and everyone leads, no matter what the role or level.

This means that complimenting those who lead you has as much value as praising colleagues and those you lead.


How to compliment (at work):

When you notice detail, this gives your observations more validity, demonstrating that you’ve really noticed the other person.  It reveals a gratitude for them.

Here are some bad examples of compliments:

“I really love your thingy.”Too vague, can be misunderstood….
“You’ve got beautiful eyes.”In a professional context, this sounds like you’re flirting.  Also, unless they’ve had a lift and tuck, a person’s appearance isn’t always something that can be helped.  And if a little blade work was used, don’t point it out.
“You’re so eccentric.”Did you mean ‘unique’?  That’s what many would generally prefer.  You may think eccentricity is quirky but, generally, people don’t want to feel like they’re a walk-on in Edward Scissorhands. Having said that, I did meet a woman once with the word ‘oddball’ written on the side of her handbag.  She’d have LOVED being called ‘eccentric’


These are good examples of compliments

“You speak with such authority on…”Acknowledging someone’s expertise gives them a sense of recognition for what they know as well as their ability to articulate it clearly.
“Your energy lifts the room.”Not only is their energy positive but it makes others feel good too.
“You have an enviable eye for detail.”Some people take their natural leanings for granted.  If you’re a person who likes detail, you may think of your reluctance for looking at the big picture as a weakness.  This means that when others do go into ‘big picture’, it’s not because the detail isn’t valued.


Your Action:

  1. Watch for something you can sincerely appreciate in your boss, a colleague or someone you manage and make a point of telling them this week.
  2. Want someone to do something?  What do they admire about themselves?  Find a way of using that praise to steer their action.

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