We all like to receive a compliment. Praise can make us feel good and make our day better. In many cases it helps to shorten the distance between two strangers and makes the meeting more pleasant and relaxed. Other times it serves to tell the other that we are there and that it is important to us. In fact, it is estimated that we must give and receive five compliments for each criticism. But we are often thrifty when it comes to complimenting someone.
Why don't we praise others more?
Giving and receiving compliments is an art that not everyone masters. A very interesting study conducted at the universities of Pennsylvania and Cornell revealed the complex psychological fabric behind a simple compliment.
These psychologists asked the participants to approach a stranger and praise him. In some cases the compliment was prepared, in others they had to create it themselves.
The researchers analyzed how participants felt before complimenting other people and what emotional effect they thought their comment would have. They also assessed the emotional effect the compliment actually had on the person who received it.
The results reveal that we usually avoid complimenting someone because we misjudge how others will react. In practice, we underestimate the importance of praise. Not only are we not fully aware of the benefits of complimenting, but we are also concerned about the response of others.
In fact, these researchers found that even after praising someone, the emotional effect we think we have had does not accurately reflect how the praised person feels. And, in general, people appreciated compliments and felt better after receiving them. But we are not fully aware of this.
Why do we underestimate the importance of complimenting?
This study reveals that we often feel nervous and doubt our ability to praise someone, which leads us to underestimate the positive effect of our words on the person in question. In other words, we hide behind insecurity and fear.
In fact, people who only had to guess how someone would react to a compliment - but didn't have to give or receive it and acted as mere observers - judged better how those who received compliments would feel than the people who gave them. Obviously, these people weren't nervous, so their emotions didn't affect their ability to gauge the positive impact and importance of praise.
The moral of this research is that compliments make us feel good, and when they are genuine they become a powerful tool to connect with other people and brighten their day.
What should a compliment be like?
In order for a compliment to reach its goal and generate positive experiences, it must meet a few basic conditions:
• Express something positive that we really feel, so that our words sound authentic. It's not worth flattering the other person. Saying so much spoils all the magic. Compliments must be genuine.
• Be natural, so that our words don't sound forced or circumstantial. As a general rule, the more natural and authentic a compliment is, the better it will be received and the more positive its impact will be.
• Speak in first person to show our involvement. An impersonal compliment will sound forced. It is not the same as saying a cold and impersonal "good job" rather than "I really enjoyed the work you did yesterday". Expressing our opinion by speaking in the first person brings us closer and has a more positive emotional effect.
• Be specific, since exaggerated and baseless compliments sound false. Instead of using terms like "exceptional" or "perfect", it is better to focus on the action or quality we want to praise. Utrecht University psychologists have found that even as children, we often feel uncomfortable with excessive compliments and prefer them more specific.
In any case, it is important to remember that a compliment can not only do good to the one who receives it, but also says a lot about the one who does it. A person who gives genuine compliments is a caring, empathetic and affectionate person with others, who cares about connecting and finds the positive in others. Compliments allow us to step out of our self-centeredness to focus on others.
So next time you appreciate someone's kindness, a job well done, or a positive quality, try to make your mark by complimenting them. The person will receive them in a much more positive way than you think and you can even brighten up their day. A compliment costs little but goes a long way.