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How to Give and Receive Compliments at Work

 

Whether you're a manager or someone's direct report, giving and receiving compliments plays a critical role in at work. When delivered well, a compliment is one of the most powerful ways to show your appreciation for someone. Yet, these seemingly positive interactions can be surprisingly tricky to navigate for giver and receiver alike.

Although compliments should be a positive experience, I have discovered that the process of giving and receiving compliments often brings up a lot of anxiety for those involved. Givers express worries of being seen as kiss-ups, of having their compliment misinterpreted or of triggering jealousy in others. On the receiving end, people feel they don’t deserve the praise, question the giver’s intentions or worry that they won’t be able to reproduce the same result in the future.

Luckily, there are ways to that make the experience more comfortable.

Here are some tips:

HOW TO ACCEPT A COMPLIMENT:

Most people don’t realize compliments are often more about the giver than the receiver. When someone is complimenting you, the interlocutor is actually sharing how something you did had an effect on him. It does not matter if you agree or disagree; just accept it. The best way to respond to kind words from a boss or co-worker is to say simply thank you.

HOW TO GIVE A POWERFUL COMPLIMENT:

Few people know how to recognize the work of others effectively. In my work, I've found that the most memorable and impactful messages are authentic and specific, and they focus on the process a person went through to produce good results. A good rule to follow is: Don’t compliment someone because you feel you should; compliment the person because you feel compelled to let him know how he impacted you. It is also important to provide context for your remarks. For example, instead of giving a vague compliment like “Thanks for taking notes in the meeting,” be specific: “John, I know it is your job to take notes in the meeting, but because you do it so well, I know I can relax and focus on doing my job.”

FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT JUST THE RESULT:

In my research, I found that people rarely want to be recognized for the result, but instead, the process and effort that went into producing the result. Compliments that focus only on the result often trigger anxiety in the receiver to produce the same result in the future. So when recognizing someone, show that you appreciate the time and care that went into the work.

SHARE THE IMPACT:

Remember that a compliment is often more about the giver than the receiver. If you want to give a powerful compliment, give the person a window into what you experienced and how it impacted you or others. Consider sharing how the person's leadership affects the team and your working environment. 

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