“Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate.”
—William Arthur Ward
For the past several weeks, I have been trying a little experiment. It has been quite life-transforming. And I recommend it to you. The experiment goes like this:
Include one compliment in every conversation.
It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult.
The challenge did not start out for me as an intentional experiment. A few weeks ago, I was spending some time with a good friend—someone I look up to in many ways. During a break in the conversation, I mentioned some things I admire about him. I didn’t think much of it. In fact, it was actually long overdue.
His response surprised me. It was even more emotional than my original compliment. He lifted his head, looked me in the eye, and replied, “Thank you Joshua. I really needed to hear that today.”
I was reminded that many people are fighting difficult battles. We put on smiling faces, but deep down, we hurt. Sometimes, a kind word is the only source of hope we find in our day.
I decided from that moment forward I would try to be more intentional with my compliments and encouragement. In fact, I would try to work one into every conversation.
It has been both challenging and fun. I have not been perfect. But here are some of the results I have noticed:
- It benefits others. Compliments encourage others. Through kind words, we remind people of their value and their talents. All of us want to be noticed—receiving compliments confirms that we are. They provide confidence and joy and hope.
- It benefits me. When we share happiness, we receive it. These days, I see more smiles. The experiment also forces me to think less about myself and more about the other person. It is quite self-revealing. I have begun to recognize how few compliments I actually offer in a day. And I have been reminded of the power in my words.
- It benefits my environment. The people around us create the environments in which we live, work, and play. Spreading joy among them by fostering a culture of encouragement challenges others to do the same. Our work environment feels different, our home life feels different, and the world around begins to change just a little bit.
Our words are important. They have the potential to carry life within them. And offering heartfelt, sincere compliments is one of the best ways to accomplish that.
If you do decide to try the experiment, here are a few things I have learned:
Look for a prompt. I found it helpful to associate the challenge with a physical object around me to serve as a reminder—something you will have present most of the day. There is no need to buy anything new. Just attach special meaning to an article of clothing or jewelry. Use it to remind you of the challenge. It can be easy to forget.
Let common sense be your guide. Not every conversation needs a compliment. Some are short, some are just in passing, and some people we talk to on numerous occasions during the day. So use your common sense. If you talk to your boss, co-worker, or spouse 10-15 times each day, offering a compliment each time may get awkward. Settle for a few well-timed, kind words instead. Again, use your best judgment.
Keep it natural. The benefits of the challenge seem to diminish significantly when you tell someone, “Oh, I’m just saying compliments today as part of an experiment.” Using your common sense above will help to avoid those situations.
Try to be specific. It’s not always possible, but specific compliments about a person and what you appreciate about them seem to carry the most weight.
You can always end with a compliment if you need to. More than a few times I offered my compliment at the very end: “It was nice talking to you today,” or “I am glad you stopped by,” seemed to work nicely if I didn’t work a compliment into the flow of the conversation.
Using a compliment as a transition can also be helpful. They sound very natural. “Hey, you are good at Math. I have a question for you.” “I notice that you do a good job of managing people, can I ask you something?” “You are great at solving problems, can I get your input?” They take some forethought, but work really well.
The more you know someone, the easier it is to think of something nice to say. As might be expected, the better you know somebody, the easier it is to think of and offer a specific compliment. They tend to flow a bit more natural. Keep that in mind because you’ll need to work hard around people you don’t know as well.
Learn from your mistakes. There will be numerous times each day when you forget to offer a compliment. Don’t give up. Instead, try to learn from it. As you walk away, see if you can figure out why you forgot. There are probably several reasons, but I found one of the most common to be the simple fact that I was more focused on myself during that conversation than the person I was speaking with.
Give it a few days. I recommend committing to the experiment for three days.
Take notice of your response. How does the challenge make you feel? More confident? More joyful? What lessons can you learn from it? And how might it affect the words you choose in the future?
Go ahead. Try adding one compliment to every conversation today. I’m confident you’ll be really good at it.