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July 27, 2015

When “good job” isn’t good enough: 6 tips to giving effective compliments

There’s nothing like a sincere compliment to brighten someone’s day. It can be part of any interaction that involves people—whether they’re clients, prospects, peers, direct reports, contractors who clean your office at night, or even family members or friends.

But compliments can backfire, delivering the wrong message to the very person you’re trying to be nice to. To make sure your compliments do as you intend—especially with people you work with—keep these tips in mind:

  • Say why: In a work environment, giving a reason for an accolade tells the recipient exactly what behavior you want to see more of, and it makes the interaction genuine. “I like how you fielded that difficult question during your presentation” means a lot more than “Good job.”
  • Leave yourself out of it: You may or may not get a compliment back, but that’s not a good reason to praise someone. Fishing for a return compliment comes off as insincere, because it is.
  • Be specific and personal: Compliments are best when they’re tailored to the recipient. When you’re specific, you’re signaling that you mean it. Generic ones sound and feel inauthentic and insincere.
  • Timing is everything: Like any other reward, a behavioral compliment works best when it closely follows the action it relates to. During meetings, compliments can often do double-duty because it feels good to be praised in front of others. Sometimes, it makes sense to wait for a private moment, especially if the recipient is shy or sensitive. Either way, it’s best not to wait any longer than good judgment dictates.
  • Engage with the recipient: In some situations, it’s smart to lead with a question. Like “What’s your view on how the meeting went?” By opening a dialog, you can get the other person’s perspective, and you’re less likely to seem patronizing.
  • Keep it positive: There’s no room for “but” in a compliment. It’s best to avoid comparisons with other people (“Now you’re performing almost as well as Joe.”) or with previous behavior you want the recipient to change (“You’ve almost mastered that skill.”). If you’re complimenting someone on an improvement, let it go at that (“You’re really improved your delivery.”).

You can deliver a compliment for strategic reasons, like beefing up a fellow agent’s self-confidence. Or breaking the ice with a prospect. Or for no reason at all, just because.

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