How To Give A Mind-Blowing Compliment

The Three Simple Elements

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Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

He didn’t realize it, but he had given me the highest compliment I had received in years. What made it so great? He hit all three elements that you’ll learn about in this story.

He read some material I wrote for a book, and then he praised one sentence. That’s right. It was one sentence in an entire manuscript. Instead of telling me he loved everything I wrote, he went into great detail celebrating one line.

Earlier this year, I gave a memorable compliment to a car dealership. I’d gone there for service and received a survey a few days later. I remarked that they served excellent popcorn in their waiting area.

The service manager called me and thanked me for the note at the end of my survey. It turned out, the owner was a popcorn buff, and he took great pride in the quality of his popcorn. It meant more to him than any of the other service scores.

Both stories are examples of a well-crafted compliment. Everyone enjoys hearing praise about their abilities, their work or their qualities. The difference between a compliment that your recipient remembers and one she forgets is a matter of scale. This first rule will sound incongruous, but I will explain in detail.

Element Number 1 — Go Narrow

It doesn’t take much skill to craft this sort of compliment. It does require a small amount of research and attention to detail.

Let’s pretend you want to send a compliment to your favorite podcaster. Look at the narrow compliment and compare it to its all-encompassing counterpart.

General
Yo, dude. Love your stuff. ALL OF IT. I mean it’s all awesome.

Narrow
Mr. Smith. I just listened to podcast episode number sixty-eight. Your guest tried to duck the question on his failed economic policy. You successfully forced him into answering it without coming across as an overbearing bully. I’ve never seen or heard that technique executed with such perfection.

Pretend you are on the receiving end of these two compliments. Which would be more meaningful to you? Which would you feel more likely to respond? And most importantly, which one gives you the most value? No doubt, it’s the second one.

If you remember nothing else, etch this rule into your brain.

Element Number 2 — Specificity

Narrowness singles out an individual aspect of someone’s work, character traits or skill set. Let’s take it up a notch.

Adding specificity to your narrow comment enhances its meaning.

What if we added this sentence to the previous example.

Mr. Smith. I just listened to podcast episode number sixty-eight (interview with John Smith). You enthralled me at thirty-four minutes into the episode.

We’ve added more specificity. I noted the episode title and the exact point in the episode that won me over. Your recipient will value that information. He’ll appreciate it more because it shows you listened to his work and enjoyed it. Plus, it indicates a precise moment that impacted you. Who wouldn’t love that?

Element Number 3 — Pride

Narrowness and specificity enhance any compliment. This next technique will add a wow factor. It’s not always possible to do this, especially for off the cuff compliments, but you should work it in whenever possible.

Let’s suppose you have reviewed the work of someone you admire. You’ve found something that’s resonated with you. Don’t shoot off that compliment yet. Do some research first.

Everyone takes pride in individual skills, abilities or qualities. What skills does she talk about, write about or do more than anything else? What personal attributes are important to her?

Let’s go back to our earlier example. If this fictional podcast host takes great pride in the ability to prevent interviewees from evading difficult questions, I’d imagine he would like to hear how great he is at that skill.

Improvisational Compliments

For significant pieces of work like a book, presentation or podcast you have the luxury of time. You can think about what was most meaningful to you and formulate a compliment. Most verbal compliments are unplanned. There is little time to prepare.

The same basic rules apply. Find something specific you like and compliment about the narrow detail. Use visual and auditory clues to discern his passions. If someone is passionate about a subject, skill or pursuit, a compliment that ties into that passion will be well received.

For example, suppose you visit an acquaintance. You notice he has a rare book collection. That display signals his passion.

If you’re conversing with someone you’ve just met and she mentions a motorcycle, that info clues you into her interests. A compliment that ties into these interests means more to the recipient.

Of course, your praise should always be sincere. Disingenuous adulation makes you look deceitful.

The Downside

This technique requires effort. You need to do a bit of research, a bit of thinking, and a bit of editing (for written work). I don’t see this extra effort as a downside, but I’ve explained this technique, and the most common complaint I receive is about the amount of effort it requires.

The Three Elements Of The Perfect Compliment

  1. Narrowness
  2. Specificity
  3. Pride and Passion

Written by

Writer. Experimenter in life, productivity and creativity. Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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