Compliments: Words with Staying Power

Compliments: Words with Staying Power

Compliments become signposts along our career route.

Do you like to get compliments?

Do you give sincere compliments to others?

Compliments, those admiring words that often come out of nowhere, have staying power. We remember them and even more important, they can be building blocks to self-esteem.

How I Got in Trouble for a Compliment

In eighth grade, Mary Jean was cool, the girl to have as a friend. So when she told me she liked my hat, I thanked her on the spot. We were in church, “NO TALKING!” so I got in trouble. But it was worth it. Her words boosted my confidence—my insecure 12 year-old-self really needed that.

I still do. I like compliments and am delighted when I receive one about anything I do. Maybe it’s because as a Boomer, just facing the world requires a little more effort. No longer can I walk out the door with dew-kissed skin, no makeup and never be concerned that my shoes will be hurting an hour later. Maybe it’s because I recently left my out-of-the-house job. My husband shouldn’t have to compliment me on my food prep or the number of hours I work at the computer.

Compliments and Low Self-Esteem

But there are people who don’t like compliments. Psychologist Tina Gilbertson connects this reaction with low self-esteem: some people are uncomfortable receiving compliments because their low opinion of themselves doesn’t click with the compliment. Gilbertson says the compliment is really a gift, emphasizing that this unsure person really does have “beautiful eyes” or “skill at the piano.” Bottom line: if you get a compliment more than not it is sincere and it is true. Accept it. Take it in like a warm hug.

Compliments Help Personal Development

Compliments are necessary for healthy development. Growing up, we attempt different sports and interests, experiment with different hair and clothing styles, constantly work at achieving something to discover who we will be. When challenged at school, our peers see us fail—but also see us succeed. All of our attempts, our “experiments” and how people we interact with respond to them affect who we will become.

However, there are some who are so truly their own person—that no mater what anyone says or doesn’t say about their achievements—they could care less. But most of us pay attention to those things. Compliments are affirming.  

Brett McKay’s Compliment Story

A compliment meant future success for Brett McKay. He recalls the three hectic years he put into high school football: At the end of my last season, one of the coaches pulled me aside…and said, “McKay, there are plenty of other guys on the team that have way more natural athletic ability than you. …but what you lacked in talent, you made up for with hustle and heart.” This seminal moment impacted the rest of McKay’s life. He began to truly believe in himself, that he had the character to face challenges and win. He writes: I can hear my coach telling me that I have heart, and it helps me to push on.

What a story! That compliment had true staying power. But then there’s my friend who was told by her high school counselor! not to bother going to college and not offering any alternatives. This negative statement remained with her, but she used it to propel her choices, going on to achieve a BA and an MBA too. She showed that counselor! Many in her position might just have given up.

Compliments become signposts along our career route. They help us know that we are hitting the mark:  I’m accepting your curriculum proposal and you can expect more assignments. Or: You have excellent rapport with your clients; I would like you to take over Robin’s while he’s on paternity leave.

Compliments helped me move through the twists and curves of life, helped my self-esteem and belief in myself. So I readily gave them to my children, calling both of my daughters Beauty. My mother said I was overdoing it. I didn’t listen.They were and are beautiful in every way. My husband and I encouraged and praised our children through every aspect of their education and they lived up to all of it.

But Some Friends Were Negative About Compliments

I’m not shy about my feelings. So once with a group of friends, I just said right out—”I think we need to notice and compliment each other more than we do.” I was immediately told it was not necessary, that we all knew the bonds between us and so forget compliments. I got quiet. I wish Brett McKay had been with me, backing me up. He writes: Unfortunately, even though compliments are a powerful force for positive good for both the giver and receiver, most people are pretty stingy with them. Let’s change that and start lifting each other up more often with encouraging words.

Try Giving Someone Who Needs One, a Compliment!

So I continue to give them—sincerely. I don’t feel shy about it. I could be helping someone get through a bad time, confirm they made the right decision (as simple as the sweater they bought or as complicated as the career choice they are making.) There is nothing better than being affirmed by someone you admire.

Children need compliments to succeed and believe in themselves and adults feel more warmly toward one another when they share honest feelings about their successes—like big ones: “Of course you got promoted. You are so good at what you do.!” And small ones: “I like your hat.” (Really, I thought I looked dumb in it but it will protect my face from the sun.)

Note: Why Some Folks Will Shy Away from Your Compliment

In some cultures, like the Chinese, it is considered polite to deny compliments and impolite to accept them. Someone may refuse a compliment simply because they are following this cultural norm. But in most societies you will be cementing relationships, helping people’s self-esteem and getting smiles back because of your words.

Final Thoughts

Though on a regular basis I might not be showered with compliments, when people say anything positive about my children–I take it in as just that. It makes my day. And on a lighter note, a metaphor for how compliments work: I can be awash in good feelings when one of my offspring surprises me with: Mom, you look really awesome in that dress. So different from what I was used to hearing when they were younger: Mom, you aren’t going out in that!  

So don’t hesitate. Be generous. I believe it’s a way of PAYING-IT-FORWARD.  Compliments are words that truly have staying power.


Thanks to Google Images

Read Brett McKay’s post

Thanks to Tina Gilbertson

Compliments: Words with Staying Power

Teachers are primarily helpers who when giving honest compliments help students succeed.

7 thoughts on “Compliments: Words with Staying Power

  1. Great article, Beth! Sometimes I have a hard time with receiving a compliment.
    I will think about it later and think, did I even say thank you????? I still remember the feeling, this summer I got 2 compliments from two different strangers on my colorful dress! It made my day! I felt like I wanted to wear it everyday!!!! And then there are the people closest to you, family and friends, that you never get a complement from! (This does not include my husband! He’s my biggest cheerleader!!!) From coming home at Christmas and not saying a thing about how things look, smell or taste!!!!! To no comment on how you looked on your daughter’s wedding……..!!!!!!
    I do what I do because it makes me feel good. I really don’t need a complement!
    But it sure is nice when one comes along. I just hope I say, “Thank you!”
    When ya think about it, some people are more thoughtful then others, and they are the ones who will give a complement, even if it is to a stranger!!!!!!
    It’s not what a person says that counts, but it’s how they made you FEEL!!!!!!

    • Oh Gay, it’s so true. People can reach out and make other people feel so good, for so long! SEE you remember those comments about your colorful dress. Affirmation is a wonderful thing. I think you do say thank you. And the dress you wore at the wedding was beautiful and you looked fabulous in it. I thought of putting a photo of myself at the top of the post with the caption: this woman, though aging, still likes compliments. Glad Tom has lots of them. John too. Thanks for writing, Beth

  2. Beth,
    I love reading your posts. They are so truthful and full of insights that make life a little easier to handle. I am one of those people that suffer from extremely low self-esteem so compliments to me are just words people say and I live with someone who NEVER offers compliments so it’s a double negative for me. I don’t hear them very often so when I do I’m immediately on the defense and brush them away.
    However, I do believe in giving them and I believe they help boost others. I believe they work wonders for children and I give them out to my eight year old for a variety of things.
    Thank you for the great post today, it helped boost my day!

    • Natalie, first, your struggle might contribute to that self-esteem thing. Did I mention to you that your father recently said to me, “That Natalie, she’s amazing.” He did. Look to those who love you and if that person in your life isn’t saying ANYTHING–ask him why. As for Grace, she is graced with your love and I know you will compliment her and give her what she needs to grow and thrive. THAT makes you a great mom and thus a great person. Children are a gift and you know that and live that. Thanks for writing and as I’ve said before, you get me back to the keyboard. Beth

  3. Thank you Beth. That reply just made my day. I didn’t realize my father spoke so well of me to others. That means the world to me. I know my diabetes and now heart disease has made it difficult for me to ever feel secure in my life.
    I also know that Grace is the shining spot in my life and YES, everything is done with her in mind, with raising her to be happy, secure and confident…and she is quite the amazing little girl.
    Keep writing, these posts mean a lot to me and all the others I see commenting!!!!

    • THANKS, ED. I love the compliment and I so wish I had more great men like you reading my posts. I’ll keep working at it. Thanks for following, Beth

Comments are closed.