How to Give Better Compliments

Earlier this week, I gave a presentation to a group of leaders on the power of validation in business. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous heading into it—I always get nervous presenting, despite having given hundreds of presentations. Thankfully, I got into my groove, the content and connection flowed, and I wrapped up right on time, having delivered everything I had hoped to.

It felt amazing.

And yet, still, there remained the tiniest sliver of doubt—something my wife and I affectionately refer to as a “vulnerability hangover.”

The next day, I flipped through my inbox to discover several thank-you emails from managers who had attended the training. They were incredibly kind, and gave me renewed confidence and energy in my work.

The last email I opened, however, was different. It was a thank-you/compliment like the rest, but had a much more significant impact. I felt especially appreciated and recognized, and that feeling stayed with me for the next several days.

What was it about this email that made it so much more fulfilling than the rest?

Specific + Sincere = Powerful

This particular email wasn’t much longer, but it was more specific in its praise:

Hey Michael,

Just wanted to drop you a quick note on your presentation.

I read your book last year and really enjoyed it. It has sincerely improved my ability to step outside of my own experience and validate others.

You have a knack for making engaging presentations look effortless. While I imagine much of that is innate ability, I’m also sure it’s reflective of the time and effort you put into honing your message. Whatever the combination, it works dude.

Lastly, I appreciate you helping demystify counseling/therapy. Our emotional and mental health should always be a priority.

Anyways, nice going man.

Best,

Clay

This compliment stood out from the rest because it acknowledged (and validated) several specifics of the presentation, and the work that went into preparing it.

He could have simply said, “you have a knack for making presentations look effortless,” and left it at that. That would still have been a fantastic compliment. But, instead, he took it one step further and acknowledged the fact that it likely took a significant amount of preparation and effort.

That’s what made the difference.

Why?

Because I did put in a crazy amount of work into that training. I spent weeks preparing for that specific event, and nearly 20 hours on the slide deck alone. I strive to ensure my content is tailored to the audience, rather than just using the same old presentation every time, and that takes work. So to feel like someone else appreciated not only the content, but the work and time it took to prepare it, was immensely satisfying.

That simple email taught me a valuable lesson: the more specific our praise—and the more we recognize the subtleties of whatever we’re complimenting—the more powerful it becomes.

Which One Are You?

Pay closer attention this next week to how you compliment others (or whether you do it at all). Do you give generic, broad feedback, like the following?

  • “Nice job!”
  • “Thank you for your help.”
  • “You look great.”

Or do you take another 10 seconds to get into specifics?

  • “Nice job on that pitch—you clearly did your homework. I was seriously impressed with how you had answers to every question he asked without skipping a beat.”
  • “Thank you for your help today. It’s refreshing to talk to someone so kind and positive. If more people were like you, the world would be a happier place.”
  • “I love your shoes. Where did you get those?”

It’s a simple change, but one that makes a notable difference.

Any other tips or advice on complimenting others? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Helena Lopes

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