How To Give An Amazing Compliment

“A man with a hat on, standing in a field in the countryside with his arms stretched out” by Alex Woods on Unsplash

I dream about a future where car ownership is a thing of the past. Until that day we’ll own two cars. Every four to six months I shell out a handful of cash for scheduled maintenance. Yesterday, the grand total came to $309.00.

I hate spending money on car maintenance but a small part of me does look forward to my sporadic visits. It’s not the friendly service or complimentary car wash. It’s the popcorn.

Yes, I wrote popcorn. See, they have this popcorn machine and it makes popcorn that tastes better than movie theater popcorn. The crunchiness, salt and flavor synergize into an additive delight.

The service manager asked me to fill out a survey when I got home.

“Forget all the survey questions,” I said. “It’s the popcorn that keeps me coming back. How do you make it so amazing?”

He told me the owner is a popcorn freak. This guy had spent an absurd amount of money on a top of the line machine. The Service Manager then asked me to mention the popcorn in the comments section of the survey. The owner takes great pride in those compliments.

All Compliments Are Not Created Equal

All well-intentioned compliments are nice. It takes a bit of skill to create a meaningful comment. Not a lot of skill, just attention to detail and specificity.

Here’s the general rule on compliments.

The narrower the compliment, the more meaningful it is to the recipient.

Here’s what I mean. Compare these two compliments.

  1. Dude. Loved your book, The Stage Singer. It was amazing.
  2. I loved the scene on page 315 of The Stage Singer. John pauses and reflects before striking the final blow. It created so much tension I almost jumped out of my skin.

The first compliment covers the entire book.The second compliment covers an individual scene. The second one is more meaningful to the recipient because of the specificity. The detail makes it meaningful. It’s appreciated more because it shows you read the book and noted something important.

Here’s another example.

Don’t Write This. 
“Great presentation on investing, Joe. Really got me to think.”

Write this. 
“Joe, I watched your presentation on investing. Your insight into managing the risks of high yield illiquid securities changed my belief about this market.”

In the latter case, the compliment covers a narrow, specific piece of something much bigger (illiquid securities versus investing as a whole). That narrowness makes it more meaningful and valuable to the recipient.

The Narrow Compliment In Everyday Life

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.

In everyday life we need to think fast. You can still use the narrow compliment to your benefit. Find something specific you like and compliment about the narrow detail.

For example, instead of telling your friend the classic car he restored looks great, make it more narrow. Find something you like and zero in. “The leather seats are so tight they look like they’re right off the dealer floor.”

Before You Go…

I write about marketing, creativity and writing. I’m giving away guides on creativity, bullet writing and more. Click here to get yours. Connect with me on Twitter or linkedIn. P.S. — Click “clap” below. It helps others find this story.