Too Seldom Is Heard an Encouraging Word: Why and How To Offer More Compliments
by Brett & Kate McKay
Art of Manliness
words are characterless and die upon utterance. Evil words rankle
for a while, make contentions, and then die. But the hopeful, kind,
cheering word sinks into a man’s heart and goes on bearing
fruit forever. How many beautiful written words words in
book and song and story are still inspiring men and making
the world fragrant with their beauty! It is just so with the words
you write, not on paper, but on the hearts of men. I wish there
were room to mention here the testimonies of great men to the power
of some hopeful, encouraging word they had spoken to them in youth
and in the days of struggle. But every autobiography records this
thing. Booker T. Washington tells how the encouragement of General
Armstrong saved the future for him. I know a young man who is to-day
filling a large and useful place in the world, who was kept to his
high purpose in a time of discouragement by just an encouraging
word from a man he greatly admired. That man’s word will live
and grow in the increasing influence of the younger man. This world
is full of men bearing in their minds deathless words of inspiration
heard in youth from lips now still forever. Speak hopeful words
every chance you get. Always send your young friends from you bearing
a word that they will take into the years and fulfill for you.”
Enlargement of Life (1903) By Frederick Henry Lynch
As I detailed
seminal post about the importance of hustling, when I started
playing football in high school I was slow and fat and generally
terrible. But I worked as hard as I could for three years and eventually
became a starter my senior year. At the end of my last season, one
of the coaches pulled me aside in the hallway, put his hands on
my shoulders and said, “McKay, there are plenty of other guys on
the team that have way more natural athletic ability than you. You’re
not a naturally athletic guy, but what you lacked in talent, you
made up for with hustle and heart.”
impacted the rest of my life. It crystallized something I had hoped
was true into something I began to really believe about my character.
Since then, when I’ve faced challenges where I don’t feel
as up to the task as others, I can hear my coach telling me that
I have heart, and it helps me to push on.
Such is the
power of compliments.
even though compliments are a powerful force for positive good for
both the giver and receiver, most people are pretty stingy with
them. Let’s change that and start lifting each other up more often
with encouraging words. Here’s why you should offer more compliments,
and how to do it.
We Should Compliment More
encourage others who are struggling. Studies
have shown that when it comes to helping someone reach their
goal, positive feedback is most effective for novices. Experts are
primarily concerned about evaluating their rate of progress, and
negative feedback helps motivate them to want to go further and
faster. Beginners, on the other hand, are most concerned with simply
evaluating their commitment (can I do this?) and they interpret
compliments as signs that they’re on the right track and will be
able to stick with it.
can truly be all that stands between someone being successful and
giving up. Stand in that gap and offer an encouraging word.
help children learn new tasks. Given the point above, this
makes sense; after all, kids are novices at everything. Researchers
argue that positive feedback is also more effective than the
negative variety in teaching kids new tasks and behaviors, because
it’s simpler than negative feedback; the latter involves the more
complex task of learning from mistakes.
For this reason,
“Catch ‘em doing something good” is one of my parenting mottos.
strengthen (and soften) relationships. Compliments convey
respect. Relationships are built on respect. Simple.
can also serve to melt the ice between you and an antagonist. As
we’ll discuss below, offering a compliment requires a bit of humility,
and it also tells the receiver that even if you don’t like anything
else about them, you can at least admit to admiring that one quality.
That tiny opening can often thaw the freeze into, if not bosom-buddy-hood,
then at least a working relationship.
charm others and increase our circle of influence. People
like surrounding themselves with those who make them feel good,
and nothing makes a person feel better about themselves than a thoughtful
compliment. If you want to make new friends or increase your influence
among co-workers and colleagues, make an effort to “catch
them doing something good” (it works for everybody!) and then
complimenting them on it.
help you be less cynical. In
the wise words of William George Jordan, “We pay too much tribute
to a few human insects when we let their wrong-doing paralyze our
faith in humanity. It is a lie of the cynics that says ‘all
men are ungrateful,’ a companion lie to ‘all men have
their price.’ We must trust humanity if we would get good from humanity.
He who thinks all mankind is vile is a pessimist who mistakes his
introspection for observation; he looks into his own heart and thinks
he sees the world.”
we’ll discuss in just a moment, humans have a tendency to concentrate
on the negative. When you start looking for reasons to offer compliments,
you increase the sensitivity of your antennae for picking up on
good stuff – the positive, admirable things that people do every
day. Don’t look now stony heart, a tear was just squeezed from you.
You Don’t Compliment More Often
brains are designed to focus on the negative. The human
mind is designed with a negativity bias – we pay more attention
and give more weight to negative experiences as opposed to positive
ones. There’s a perfectly good evolutionary reason for this.
An increased sensitivity to negative experiences kept our caveman
ancestors safe from life-threatening risks. “Okay, so sabertooth
tigers don’t think it’s funny when you pull their tails.”
the very bias that helps keep us safe from risks, often prevents
us from noticing the good and praiseworthy things that folks around
us do. We’ll notice and say something when our waiter messes
up our order, but when he provides impeccable service, it hardly
registers, and if it does, we rarely mention it to him.
The first step
to becoming a better complimenter is to simply be aware of your
negativity bias. Understand that your brain is always hunting for
something to gripe about, so make a conscious effort to overcome
that bias by searching for the good – it’s often right in front
of your nose.
self-absorbed. No matter how selfless we may think we are,
all of us are self-centered to varying degrees. We’re typically
more concerned about our own performance or behavior, and not the
performance or behavior of others. Our natural egotism explains
why we think everyone notices how nervous we’re feeling when giving
a big speech. Because we’re paying so much attention to how
we’re feeling, we assume others are too. They’re not – they’re
as caught up in their own thoughts and behavior as you are in yours!
self-centeredness can cause us to not truly pay attention and listen
to others – which makes us miss opportunities to offer a compliment.
Don’t get so wrapped up in yourself that you overlook the
good things others around you are doing.
see everything as a competition. Complimenting is a way
to show your respect or admiration for someone. For many men, offering
a compliment seems like an admission that they’re inferior
and the person receiving the compliment is better. These folks see
everything in life as a competition and don’t want to give
someone any more “points” with a compliment.
someone happens to excel you in some aspect of life, withholding
your compliment isn’t going to even the score. In fact, the
other person probably doesn’t even know there is a score.
Success isn’t a zero-sum game. There’s plenty of it
to go around – so quit the petty scorekeeping.
In truth, it’s
the superior man who is able to respect other men for their
excellence, and who seeks to identify and articulate areas where
he’d like to improve. Observing and taking notes on the things that
others are doing that you want to do too, is an excellent way of
facilitating this improvement. And offering the adroit man a compliment
can lead to the very best way to improve – finding a mentor. “I
really enjoyed your presentation today. How did you get so comfortable
with public speaking?”
shy. If saying a simple “hello” to someone
gives you a shiver of anxiety, offering a compliment likely induces
a full-on panic attack. Okay, maybe not a panic attack, but some
awfully sweaty palms. If shyness is a problem for you, compliments
are a low-risk, high-return way to overcome your social anxiety.
Most people love to hear how awesome they are and will almost never
respond with a cold shoulder to a simple and sincere compliment.
It is also a great way to kick-off
small talk, if that’s something that troubles you. “This
table you made is amazing. How did you get into woodworking?”
don’t want to appear like a brown-noser/kiss-ass/suck-up.
Nobody wants to be a suck-up. But don’t withhold
compliments because of your fear of being labeled as one. To avoid
the brown-noser label, you simply need to follow a few guidelines
when offering compliments to folks, especially your superiors. First,
be sincere (more on that later). Second, be judicious with your
compliments. Don’t go overboard with showering praise on your
boss/teacher. Third, offer the compliments or praise when others
aren’t around. If sociological studies are correct, your boss
probably enjoys hearing your effusive praise and compliments; it’s
your colleagues who likely disdain it – as they perceive it as an
attempt to elevate your status and diminish theirs. Compliment your
superiors in private.
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© 2012 The Art of Manliness