4 Tips For Giving Meaningful Compliments

Mark Twain once said “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

While that’s probably not true for most people, I’m a big believer that a thoughtful compliment is the fuel for productive and happy workplaces.

Note that I said thoughtful. There is an art to a good compliment and interestingly it follows some of the same rules as giving tough feedback:

  • A good compliment is specific: You’re better off saying “great job on the new XYZ report! it’ll really help my team achieve their goal of delivering those widgets under budget.” This compliment works (hokey widget example aside), because it’s specific, targeted and includes a result. A less productive compliment would be “Thanks for being so awesome- I appreciate it.” Most people might accept that as nice, but not really have enough context (unless it’s said in the course of the situation) to understand the how/what or why.
  • A good compliment acknowledges effort, not just outcome: For example: “thank you for taking doing this on such short notice. I know you require more lead time usually but I appreciate your accommodating us.” People appreciate when you notice that they went out of their way to do something, or they tried their best to get you something done well.
  • A good compliment focuses on work: this is obvious but should be noted– complimenting someone on their new slacks doesn’t count at the workplace. Depending on the interaction, it might even be a little awkward.
  • A compliment can be both public and private: while there’s value to acknowledging someone in front of the rest of the team or via email, the in-person pop-by to thank someone means a lot too.
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