The Fine Art of the Compliment


A Compliment Sits by the Wayside

A long time ago I had two best friends who were both getting married within a year and I was a bridesmaid in both weddings. Katie’s wedding was first, followed by Claudia’s. During a quiet moment in the dressing room before the ceremony I was spellbound by Claudia’s beauty and spoke as such. With tears in my eyes, I said to her sincerely, “Claudia, you are the most beautiful bride I have ever seen”. Her response to my compliment took me aback. “You said the same thing to Katie”. Allowing my words to ricochet off her, like I had just told her she looked a fright, hurt me and I did not understand why she did not accept my feelings in the moment.


If a compliment is given in the forest and nobody hears it, does it exist?

The Timber "Line" By Pippy Tolan

The Timber “Line” By Pippy Tolan


I have thought of this moment often as it made a big impact on me. That experience has affected the way that I receive and give compliments to this day. A compliment, when sincere, it is a true gift. Giving and receiving compliments should be a big deal and a big part of daily life. How we give and accept them can make all the difference in the way everyone feels in the exchange. The intent of the compliment can be lost in the way that it is accepted. I also thought about the delivery of the compliment. It would have been more genuine to choose my words more carefully and to articulate the way I was feeling in a more personal way, rather than saying the same thing to both brides.


The Complimenter

Do you give compliments freely or do you only compliment when something blows your mind? Do you compliment strangers? Do you compliment people in your life on a daily basis? This study shows how giving compliments in the workplace improves the performance of employees just as much as giving a cash reward Just think, compliments don’t cost you a dime and can make others feel great! I personally have made a point to compliment people in service. I will make a nice comment about a piece of clothing or jewelry that a cashier is wearing and tell my server how great the service was (do not trade a compliment for a great tip!). For some, complimenting is second nature and for others it just does not feel natural. I am going to go over the different types of Complimenters and how everyone can improve on their complimenting skills. 

The Inappropriate Complimenter

A compliment is supposed to be a gift to another person. If you are going to offend someone then it is no longer a gift. Just like with any conversation use your filter and make sure that the compliment is appropriate. Just because you have a burning desire to tell your friends wife that her new plastic surgery looks hot, your comment may not fly and you may want keep it to yourself. The point of the compliment is to make the other person feel good, not uncomfortable. The correct words and timing can also make the difference between a successful compliment and an insult. You don’t want to be punched in the nose for disrespecting someone!

The Over Complimenter

Do you know someone who just seems like they like everyone and everything? To me, their over complimenting seems insincere. If every time you are around this person the compliments pour over you like gravy and you feel uncomfortable and/or awkward then what they are actually doing is trying to flatter you. If this becomes droll, you can use the old “flattery will get you nowhere” response. They could be behaving this way because they really feel like you are the best thing since Post-It’s, or they are just simply an Over Complimenter and flattery is part of their social interactions. You are under no obligation to take this flattery as a gift.

The Backhanded Complimenter

A backhanded compliment, in my world, is just as good as an insult. This snide type of compliment comes from a negative place and is in no way meant to be taken for face value. Giving these types of compliments is a passive aggressive way to make a point, and should be addressed as such. Calling out a Backhanded Complimenter can be a gift in itself, as long as you don’t use a sarcastic backhanded compliment. An example of this would be, “You are really good at those backhanded compliments”. Now that’s something to think about. Another thing to think about is making sure that your compliment is sincere. Sarcasm has no place in a compliment.

The Fishing Complimenter

We all know that guy at the bar who throws out lines all night hoping for a bite. To the Fishing Complimener it’s a numbers game. Pick up lines like “Is your Daddy a baker? Because you sure have nice buns!” does not seem like a sincere compliment to me. A whistle from a construction worker was not a gift to me until I turned 45. When I was younger those kinds of gestures offended me. Nowadays I secretly say to myself “Yep, I’ve still got it”. It’s all up to the interpretation of the receiver. Hopefully, we receive enough real compliments that we can tell the fisherman to cast off.


Notes for Good Complimenting:

  • Compliment someone everyday – there is something nice to say at least once a day. Complimenting at least once a day can lift the spirits of the people around you and keep you looking for the good in people.
  • People remember your compliments – People remember most of the compliments that they have ever received. A good compliment can mean the difference between a good day and a great day. Just like memories, you remember the good and bad times but not the mediocre. Your compliment may last a lifetime. Create good memories for people with honest, sincere compliments!
  • If you can’t think of something nice to say, write it – You can text it, e-mail it or let a card say it for you. Constructing a “Let me count the ways…” letter is a nice idea for anyone in your life who you admire. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become giving away these free gifts.


A compliment not properly received is like a present left unopened. ~ Pippy



The Complimentee

How do you accept compliments? Do you light up, smile and give a big “thank you?” Do real, sincere compliments make you uncomfortable? It is very important to learn how to accept compliments properly. It’s better to give than to receive so they say, but if not properly received the gift remains unopened. If someone goes out of their way to give a sincere compliment then it is the complimentee’s responsibility to accept it properly with thanks and grace. How you receive compliments can be a reflection of your self-esteem and self worth. If you do not feel good about receiving compliments, you are more apt to keep negative people around you. You will tend to push the people who love and praise you away because you do not believe their positive words about you. They will stop giving you praise because you have resisted it and they may even stop giving praise to others because of the fear of rejection. A compliment is a true gift from the heart and it’s up to you if you want to keep receiving these gifts. The more you let these words in the more you will begin to realize that they are true and you are worthy of these treasures.


Notes on Being a Good Complimentee:

  • Say Thank You – By appreciating the compliment you are encouraging the Complimenter to continue complimenting.
  • Don’t Cut it Short – When someone is singing your praise, hear them out. Their good opinion of you deserves to be heard.
  • Count your Compliments – When practicing gratitude, you can throw in your compliments along with everything else you are thankful for. You should be very thankful that people think so highly of you. Be thankful for the Complimenter as well for making sure they told you how they feel.
  • Don’t Fish – When fishing for compliments you will appear needy. Do you really want a compliment that you had to ask for? Know your worth. Surround yourself with people that you don’t have to coax to admire you.
  • You Decide – You don’t have to be thankful for unwanted flattery or creepy comments. It’s completely up to you to choose which compliments are gifts you will cherish and which you will not accept. Speak up if someone is making you uncomfortable.
  • Compliment it Forward – You get back what you give to the world. If you give compliments then you encourage this practice and yes, it will come back to you!

The Compliment Bucket

I was given a decorated shoebox from a young friend many years ago that was adorned with positive affirmations about me. This twelve year old knew that I was feeling very low about a break-up. I was devastated and wondered what was wrong with me. She told me that whenever anyone gave me a kind note or card to put it in the box and to open the box and start reading anytime I felt unhappy. I went even further and wrote compliments down that were given to me verbally and put those in the box as well. This shoebox was one of the nicest gifts I have ever received. Since then I have scanned all of my notes and words and have made what I now call a “Compliment Bucket” that I add to anytime I receive kind words from people. Whenever I feel blue, or low about myself I go through my compliments. Remembering how people have valued me through my life helps me with the biggest compliment of all, being able to look in the mirror and compliment myself!


Big Compliments Take Small Effort

Saying something nice is easy and it can mean the world to someone. Hearing something nice is a gift to be received with thanks, grace and love. Love one another. Tell each other how much you value them or enjoy their spaghetti sauce. Compliments Big and Small go a long, long way.

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