A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

How to Give a Sincere Compliment

Use these 15 tips to become a pro at praising people in a way they will really appreciate.

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The best way to give a compliment

Everyone likes getting compliments but giving them can feel like walking a tightrope, blindfolded. Knowing how to give a great compliment is one of the secrets of naturally charming people but for many of us, it doesn’t always come naturally. If that’s you, don’t fret; this is definitely a skill you can learn! Here are some expert tips to help craft your kudos.

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Be authentic

“The number one rule for giving a great compliment is to be genuine and sincere,” says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. An authentic comment will come across as meaningful, memorable, and make the person feel special while a fake platitude can feel worse than nothing at all, making the person wonder if you couldn’t find anything real to compliment them on. Plus it can backfire—giving an insincere compliment can make you seem self-centered or untrustworthy, she explains. These strategies can help you build trust with your coworkers.

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Mind your body language

When it comes to giving a great compliment, how you say it just as important as what you say, Gottsman says. “For a compliment to feel authentic, it needs to be delivered in a meaningful tone of voice, with a genuine smile, and eye contact,” she explains. This is also why a compliment given in person is more effective than one given over a text, she adds. Not sure where to begin? Start with these 10 small compliments you should be giving every day.

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Nix the body talk

Who doesn’t like to hear that you find them attractive? A lot of people, it turns out. Commenting on someone’s body may be appropriate when you’re talking to someone you have a close personal relationship with, like a family member or best friend, whom you know will appreciate it. But you should avoid all body comments with coworkers, casual acquaintances, or strangers, says Wyatt Fisher, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. “Comments about their body or general looks can make them feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even harassed,” he explains. Plus, it’s kind of a lazy compliment and may make you seem superficial. Instead, for a better ice breaker, try one of these 50 cheesy pickup lines so funny you’re guaranteed to get a laugh.

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Highlight things about them that they chose

If you do decide to compliment something about a person’s appearance, steer clear of statements about their body parts (things they often can’t control anyhow), and focus on something they chose, like their stunning handbag or interesting hat, says Bonnie Tsai, founder of Beyond Etiquette. “Compliments like ‘you’re gorgeous’ or ‘you have beautiful eyes’ may seem like a good idea at the time, but they may not be received in the same manner you intended,” she explains. “When you compliment something they chose, what you’re really complimenting is their good taste or sense of style.” Not sure what to say when meeting someone new? Start with these 37 conversation starters that make you instantly interesting.

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Don’t generalize the compliment to a group

Any compliment that you tack on the phrase, “for a [insert gender, race, age, or class]” is likely not a compliment and may be a subtle form of racism, sexism, or other problematic biases, says Irina Baechle, LCSW, a relationship therapist in North Carolina. For example: “You look so good for a woman over 50.” “You’re so articulate for a black person.” “You’re in such good shape for a mom.” “You’re so smart for someone who’s never been to college.” “You’re so funny for a girl.” You never need whatever follows the “for”; just say “You’re so lovely/well-spoken/fit/intelligent/funny” and leave it at that, she says. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving a compliment that is actually an insult.

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Tailor general compliments

One of the best ways to show you are sincere is to focus your compliment on something that applies to that person specifically, Gottsman says. “Giving compliments that can easily apply to anyone, such as ‘you’re great,’ will come across as superficial unless there is something really outstanding about the particular observation,” she says. If you must use one, she recommends tailoring it to that person, such as, “You’re the best, you’re so kind to always volunteer to help,” These are the best compliments anyone can ever receive.

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Find out what they’re passionate about

Even a genuine compliment about someone’s appearance can feel superficial; going a little deeper will show you’re truly interested in them as a whole person, Gottsman says. “Find out what they’re passionate about—complimenting their efforts in regards to a favorite hobby or cause will make them feel good and help build a connection,” she says. In addition, this type of compliment helps keep a conversation going. You can only say so much about someone’s shoes but you can talk for hours about a passion, she adds. Not sure how to start? Here’s how expert minglers naturally make small talk.

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Recognize their hard work

When someone has done something really big or important, nothing feels better than to have that accomplishment acknowledged by others, Tsai says. “This recognizes that this is something they were personally responsible for and put a lot of work and effort into,” she explains. And think beyond their job; things like sending a kid off to college, completing a home-improvement project, running a race, or going back to school are all worthy of compliments. These are 13 of the best compliments you can ever give a parent.

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Pay attention to what’s happening in their life

A good compliment makes a person feel seen and heard, communicating that you are interested in what’s happening in their life, says Nick Fager, LPC, a psychotherapist based in New York City. “It might mean saying something like ‘I’ve been noticing that changing jobs has been hard for you, and I think you’re handling this so well,'” he says. To do this you need to be a good listener and make note of what your loved ones are going through. These tiny compliments are the key to a successful marriage.

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Find a unique detail

General compliments may come across as inauthentic, thoughtless, or lazy. Instead, focus your compliment on something specific, suggests Gretchen Kubacky, PsyD, a psychologist in Los Angeles. “Don’t just say ‘nice flowers’ say ‘what a gorgeous arrangement; I love how you created so much texture with one color of flower,'” she suggests. The person will feel genuinely complimented as your statement feels personal and thoughtful, she says. Find out the best compliment to give every zodiac sign.

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Consider how it sounds before saying it out loud

You want to be specific with your compliment but adding too many extra flourishes can inadvertently turn a compliment into an insult, Fisher says. For instance, complimenting someone on their dedication to sticking to their diet is fine but adding on, “You look so much better now that you’ve lost weight!” may make them feel like you thought they were ugly before, he explains. “Consider how you would feel hearing a compliment before saying it to someone else,” he says. On the other hand, these 11 former insults have turned into compliments.

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Praise personal qualities

People love to be appreciated for who they are as much as for what they do and you can show your interest in them by highlighting qualities you personally admire or appreciate in them. “Qualities like kindness, attention to detail, friendliness, generosity, and stamina are a great place to start because they are enduring traits,” says Tina Gilbertson, LPC, a Denver-based psychotherapist, and author. Find out what good listeners do in daily conversations.

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Avoid back-handed compliments at all costs

You may be tempted to use a compliment as a vehicle for criticism or advice. Don’t do this, Fisher says. “This turns a kind statement into a ‘back-handed compliment’ that may leave them feeling worse,” he says. How do you know if you’re doing this? If your compliment includes the word “but”—as in, “I think you’re a good singer but…”—you might want to reconsider saying it, he explains. This doesn’t mean you can never give constructive criticism but you need to be smart about it. Use these 8 tips for giving helpful feedback without giving offense.

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Ask for more information

People love to help and to share their thoughts and opinions and you can give them an opportunity to do both with a good compliment. In fact, simply asking them to share is a compliment and it shows that you care about what they think, Gottsman says. Think about provoking a response by ending your compliment with a question. For instance, instead of simply saying, “You gave a great speech” consider adding, “How did you learn to be such a good public speaker?” Watch out! Giving these compliments can actually be hurtful to your kids.

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Remember it’s about them, not you

Too many people give a compliment as a way to manipulate the other person in some way—think sucking up to a boss or trying to get someone to drop their guard before asking them for something. A real compliment must have no motive other than kindness and people can often tell when you have an agenda, Gottsman says. Even worse, if they find out later that your comment had an ulterior motive they will feel betrayed and hurt, she says.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.