One of the formative experiences of my early twenties was taking the Dale Carnegie Course in Public Speaking and Human Relations. Each class we focused on a tenet of Carnegie’s philosophy, one of which is to give sincere, honest appreciation.
But giving honest and sincere appreciation can be a difficult skill to master.
Some compliments come across as hints to past mishaps. Someone saying, ”You look pretty in that outfit,” can give the fleeting thought of what might have been left unspoken, such as, ”…not like the outfit you had on yesterday.”
A compliment can sound manipulative. ”You really do an outstanding job cooking wonderful dinners,” can contain a hidden message of ”…and I think I can get out of helping clean up the kitchen and ever preparing a meal myself if I lay the charm on thick.”
Praise can sound overly enthusiastic. ”You’re just a wonderful artist. Your stuff should hang in the Louvre,” may communicate that the speaker wants to push us in a direction we don’t care to go.
How can we give sincere, honest appreciation? Dale Carnegie suggested that we bring with us some basic attitudes such as being genuinely interested in other people, smiling, remembering that a person’s name is the sweetest sound in any language, being a good listener, talking in terms of the other person’s interests instead of your own and making the other person feel important.
We can give a sincere compliment by describing instead of evaluating. Evaluating type of praise is when we put a value on something: That is so beautiful. You’re so good. That’s better than yesterday.
Descriptive compliments describe what you see, what you feel and then use a word that sums up the entire experience.
Let’s use the example of a child cleaning up his or her room. A descriptive compliment might go like this:
Describe what you see. Susan, I see all your books on your shelves. I see all your clothes put away. I see your bed is nice and neat.
Describe what you feel. Susan, it feels wonderful to walk into such an organized room.
Sum up the experience with a word. You worked to get your room looking just so. Susan, that’s what I’d call persistence.
A descriptive compliment is effective in communicating that we have taken a genuine interest in our children’s efforts. When the descriptive compliment includes a smile, the person’s name several times and a one-word summary of the experience, we help our children feel important and part of our families. (P.S. Descriptive compliments work at the office, with spouses and with other family members.)
Anybody can say, ”Good job!” It takes a few minutes of thought and genuine interest to show sincere appreciation.
Be prepared for a lot of repetition of any activity that you praise. Be careful to not compliment something that you do not want repeated. Saying, ”You can really play that xylophone,” might lead to a weeklong marathon playing of ”Hot Cross Buns.”
Sincere appreciation is powerful. Handle with care.