Last year, a co-worker sent me an email with the subject line: This is you!
I opened it to read:
I was pleased, surprised and humbled. The most striking thing about the gesture was it was unprompted—just an out of the blue nicety. Since then, it has sat on my desktop amongst other thumbnails with the reminder title, “How Others See Me”. It’s a reminder that this attitude is what I should be putting forth. No exceptions. My-coworker didn’t just pay me a compliment. She inadvertently challenged me to be my best self each and every day.
There is no shortage of studies on the uses and benefits of compliments. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota lists a few groundbreaking ones here.
Compliments have their functions in a spectrum of situations, from massaging constructive criticism to promoting positive actions from others. In a networking setting, they are excellent conversation sparkers. Because bullet points are a busy reader’s best friends, some tips:
Be specific. In an elbow-to-elbow room full of strangers, positioning yourself next to someone only to say, “Nice shoes”, only has a 50/50 chance of expanding into a full-blown conversation. You’re then delegating the heavy-lifting of the introduction to the other person. Pay a compliment, but pair it with a follow-up question or a little background into what made you notice it. “I love that bag! I’ve been looking for one I can use for work and double as my yoga bag. Where did you find it?” Boom. Instant insight into your interests and Round 2 of the conversation has begun. Also, I’m aware the term probably isn’t yoga bag.
Be sincere. A former co-worker used to tell me, “Good job!” for standing. No one has given me credit for that since my parents were teaching me to walk. I was well aware that the simple act of my standing in the background while a team member addressed a group was a sign of team solidarity, but it hardly merited an acknowledgment, much less a hearty accolade. Note what is noteworthy.
Be generous and time them well. In college, I belonged to an organization that planned a lot of socials. Our social chair routinely had the spotlight on her and her efforts were often criticized. One of my professors was married to a local venue owner who recently hosted one of our socials. My professor informed me that her husband had never seen a better event at any of his venues. I passed the compliment along to our embattled social chair. With a flattered grin, she said, “Really? Thank you for telling me that!” At our next meeting, she confidently stood up and told us about the next upcoming soiree, even mentioning the positive review from the venue owner. It was exactly what she needed to hear.
Compliments can leave indelible impressions on those you are just meeting or have unexpectedly positive outcomes on those you’ve known for ages. They also reflect a great deal about the giver. You can tell a lot about a person’s confidence level, interests, values, relational abilities, trustworthiness, humility, and communication style by the compliments they dispense and how they deliver them. All it takes is a little mindfulness. There isn’t a better tool in a networker’s arsenal.
More about Shannon:
Shannon Stump is saying goodbye to working adulthood and returning to the hallowed halls of academe as a full-time student in Iowa State University’s Journalism and Mass Communication Master’s program this Fall.
When she’s not switching careers, she DIY’s. She prefers “That Nice Homemade Look” to “Pinterest Fail”. She attended a math and science high school despite her mediocrity at both and loves exploring the arts and entertainment offerings of Des Moines. The greatest compliment she ever received was winning the Fun Chatterbox Award at summer camp.
She and her husband, Matt, live in Ankeny.