How to give a compliment

By Wayne Elise


I’m sure you’ve tried to deliver a compliment and had it land like a dead fish. We all have.

“You have a scholarly way about yourself.”

“What are you on about? Are you calling me a nerd? Are you having a go at me mate?”

“No. No. I was just trying to be nice.”

“Well, it’s out of order idn’t?”

Other times we give a compliment and it creates embarrassment.

“Nice hair.”

She looks at the floor. “Uh, thanks.”

He stares off into space. “Well uh, I just think it’s silky and shiny like a pony.”

She walks off.

There’s a theory that if someone does not accept a compliment they have low self-esteem. This is poppycock.

“I think you are the most handsome knight at this entire Renaissance Festival.”

“My’lady is too kind. I am but a lump of coal compared to Sir Kevin or Sir Teejay. They are like the diamonds atop her majesties crown.”

That’s just modesty in action. You will also find that people don’t like to accept compliments from particular people since doing so creates a sense of obligation.

But none of that really matters. I use compliments in an entirely different way.

I use them to stimulate PLAY.

Remember PLAY. That’s that thing we did as kids and we don’t do enough of as adults because we’re to busy feeling stressed.

That’s too bad. I think PLAY is the highest way of being with another person. When we PLAY, we forget our worries and limitations. We enter into a realm of imagination.

Here are my steps to giving compliments:

Step 1, Say what you see.

Step 2, Say how you feel.

Step 3, Say what can happen. Use a couple tools you learned from Conversation Camp here: Action Words and Act Outs.

For example:

I was recently walking down a corridor with Erika when a girl with a hat walked behind us.

“Nice hat. I like it. I wanted to bring my hat but my wife here told me no one would be wearing their hat.” I mimed wearing a hat. “You know, you can change everything by just altering the tilt of your brim.”

“You mean like this,” she said and moved her hat to the side.

“Yeah. It’s like you’re suddenly way more introspective. Try pulling up the brim. See now you’re super fun.”

Like I keep saying over and over to everyone who will listen, intention matters. Instead of using compliments to make people feel good about themselves or to flatter, use compliments to give significance and focus to something, an object or idea, that you can use to PLAY together.

Check out my companion piece to this post: How to take a compliment.