The Pulse

The hidden power of compliments.

Despite the often-sincere goodwill behind compliments, some of us are nevertheless nervous about giving and receiving them. However, research shows that there are real benefits to being on both ends of a compliment.  

In this issue of the Pulse, we are looking at the hidden power of compliments, and examining how they might have an impact on your workplace and working relationships. 

Anxiety prevents us from giving compliments.  

If you’re being genuine, all compliments come from a good place. However, the natural human anxiety surrounding how others perceive us can hold us back from letting others know how we feel.  

If I tell them I appreciate their work, will they think I’m being patronizing? Will they think I’m a suck up? Worries like these silence us from saying what we feel. We can all remember a time when we held back from sharing a complimentary sentiment for fear of how it would be interpreted.  

However, new evidence suggests that our fears are unfounded, and that by keeping our compliments to ourselves, we are missing out on significant benefits to our relationships.  

Psychologists are paying more attention to compliments.  

In the past decade, researchers in the field of psychology have begun to take a closer look at the power of compliments.  

One of the big ideas to come from studies over this period is the idea of reciprocity. This means, an act of kindness like a compliment allows for mutual goodwill, and generally makes the recipient more likely to follow a compliment with a helpful deed.  

Think of the English phrase, “paying a compliment.” This implies that compliments are in nature transactional, even when we mean them sincerely. Although this may seem like a jaded way to describe compliments and praise, if we break it down, this is a communication tool to help us uplift each other and strengthen our relationships.  

Compliments break down social discomfort.  

Research has also found that actively engaging in giving compliments can disprove some of our social anxieties.  

In studies where participants are asked to randomly pay compliments to strangers or pre-existing relationships, results found participants both underestimated how happy the recipient would be to hear praise and overestimated how awkward and uncomfortable they would feel during the experience. Consequently, participants found the exchanges surprisingly pleasant.  

Researchers have tied this phenomenon to the human perception of our own social competence. When challenged to compliment a friend or stranger, we worry we will not come across competently; whether due to poor articulation or incorrect tone.  

As it turns out, most people don’t care if you deliver a compliment clumsily. The compliment itself makes them feel seen.  

Compliments in the workplace.  

The science behind compliments and the concept of reciprocity is directly linked to the way positive feedback is a powerful tool in the workplace. In fact, it may be one of the most powerful tools employers and managers have at their disposal.  

For example, a study by Intel and Duke University found that verbal praise is a more powerful motivator for workers than even a cash bonus.  

What does this tell us? If you’re in any kind of supervisory or collaborative role in your job, it’s important to pay attention to the language you use. Do you effectively communicate praise and positive feedback? If not, you could be missing an opportunity to motivate and bond your team.  

So how do we pay compliments? 

The answer is: authentically. There’s no need to overthink it. If you have praise to deliver, deliver it.  

At the same time, don’t feel the need to lay it on thick. Over-complimenting may come across as insincere. Avoid this by giving credit where credit is due, and not digging for reasons to pay compliments.  

Stick to the kind of compliments that convey the recipients’ social value, to you, your workplace, friendship, team, etc. 

In conclusion… 

Compliments hold power; the kind of power we often let go unutilized because of our own anxiety in giving compliments. Whether a work, family, or social relationship of any kind, giving compliments to those you value is important. Don’t miss an opportunity. 

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