10 Ways To Give Honest Compliments

Have you ever received a compliment that has made your day—or even your week? The right words at the right time can make a big difference in someone's life. Learn how to find them.

Think about the nicest compliment you’ve ever received. What made it so special? It might have come from a lover, a stranger or even a particularly polite sales assistant in a shop, but no matter the source, some compliments stand out and stay with you.

Those memorable ones don’t have to come from a skilled poet or be overly flattering, but there are a few things that they have in common that makes them stand out. Take note of these tips, practice them often, and soon you’ll be making the world smile with your kind words.

1. Be a good observer

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Attention to detail is the key to giving good compliments. Look for expressions of personality and you’ll find many things to admire, from a carefully chosen pair of earrings to a well-groomed dog. Open your eyes and notice where a special effort has been made, then acknowledge it.

2. Be specific

There is nothing wrong with a sweet and generic compliment. However, if you want it to be remembered, you need to show that you’ve done your homework. Instead of telling someone that their dress is lovely, explain why do you find it so. Is it elegant? Fashionable? Particularly flattering? Let them know.

3. Keep it family-friendly

Unless there’s a good level of intimacy, ask yourself if the compliment you want to give would receive a PG rating. If the answer is yes, then go for it, but if it’s PG-13 or higher, reconsider. As a general rule, complimenting anything that is covered by clothes is tricky territory.

4. Smile and use a clear tone of voice

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People respond immediately to body language, and a warm smile is one of the most inviting gestures a person can make. If you give your compliment while looking upset or sad, the dissonance will be hard to ignore.

Even if you are tense or nervous, avoid sounding like a robot or speaking so low that they have to ask you what did you say a couple of times. This will make things awkward and by the time they actually get what you said, the effect will be diminished by the inconvenience of it all.

5. Be honest

Ok, you managed to look honest, but that’s half the battle. You should in fact be honest as fake compliments are easier to spot than fake luxury brands.

Never compliment something that you have previously said you hate as people will usually remember this. Also, avoid blatant exaggerations—telling someone that they have the most beautiful eyes you’ve ever seen can only work a handful of times. Similarly, if their joke is awful, don’t laugh.

6. Avoid comparisons and qualifiers

You don’t need a third party to compose a good compliment. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: telling someone that they’ve done well or look nice compared to someone else can be frustrating.

This is especially important when you are mentioning a person’s look or physical features. Another big no-no would be to add a qualifier or condition to the compliment (e.g. “You look lovely for your age,” or “You’re very strong for a woman.”). Don’t do it.

7. Validate a good choice

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Complimenting people’s decisions is a great way to make them feel good about themselves, and it goes beyond mere looks. If a person has recommended a book, movie, wine, etc. to you and you’ve enjoyed it, let them know! Tell them why you found their advise so helpful. It is great to hear your opinions and taste are appreciated.

8. Praise effort

Sometimes, it’s easy to focus on results and applaud concrete achievements. While there is nothing wrong with this, giving somebody a word of encouragement along the way can mean much more.

Let a friend know you really respect how he hasn’t smoked in a few months; tell your foreign coworker that her English has improved a lot since you first met; tell yourself how proud you feel because you’ve been constant with that exercise routine. There’s a long way to go before the goals are reached, and the right compliment can be a fantastic motivator.

9. Don’t generalize

You meet a wonderful Italian guy at a party and want to compliment his enthusiastic personality. Telling him that you love how all Italians are fiery and life-loving might backfire. It will also likely come across as being ignorant, misinformed or offensive even if you mean well.

10. Don’t end with the word ‘today’

If you tell someone they look great today, does it mean that they usually look awful? Probably not, but the word is unnecessary and might add to the insecurity of a person with low self-esteem. If someone’s hair looks fantastic, simply mention that; it will have a better effect. There’s no need to clarify that it’s this morning’s news only.

These are the common features of genuine compliments. By keeping these in mind when giving someone a compliment, not only will your compliment be sincere, but it’s guaranteed to make their day!

About the author

Gabriela Guedez Hamerlok

Gaby’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.

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