Offering a compliment has been shown to be beneficial for both the giver and the receiver. But we often hold back because we’re worried about the impression we’ll make, said Erica Boothby, a social psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The reality is that these messages are often much more welcome than we expect,” she said.
Recently, Milo McCabe gave me a “praise lesson” outside the main branch of the New York Public Library. The British comedian, who plays a character named Troy Hawke in viral videos, is known for praising athletes at sporting events.
Boothby, McCabe and other experts offer advice on how to praise.
PRAISE A STRANGER? BE SHORT AND SINCERE
First, assess people’s body language to see if they seem open to being approached, McCabe said. Look for attractive features, he added. If someone has clearly made an effort to dress well, it should be noticed immediately. “I love that pastel blue blazer,” he told an older man, whose face lit up. Be positive, brief and keep moving so people feel reassured that you don’t have ulterior motives, McCabe said.
PRAISE A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER? BE SPECIFIC
If you’re complimenting someone you know, try to make it distinctive, said Barbara Fredrickson, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Instead of saying you like a person’s laughter, describe how it makes you feel. (“Hearing you laugh makes me want to laugh too.”) Or, if you’re praising something someone did, explain why you admire it, Fredrickson said. “Instead of just saying, ‘Oh, what a wonderful dinner you made,'” she said, “you can say, ‘You’re always so good at finding a new recipe and being creative.'”
DON’T DOUBT YOURSELF
If you have a positive thought about someone, Fredrickson said, consider sharing it. Better yet, look for opportunities to fit a compliment into your conversation. Most people are “in the realm of their inner critic,” McCabe said. “But if you can give someone a good compliment — that you really mean — you kind of punch their inner critic.”