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The Perfect Compliment (esquire.com)
194 points by Firebrand on July 4, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Kind of an odd article, the writer spends the first part of it trying to come up with compliments, which usually fail.

Instead of manufacturing a compliment, just pay attention and realize what you think looks nice, what you like, or what you think is cool. Instead of holding back and not saying anything, which I think is what a lot of us do, tell them.

If the person has a funny shirt on and it brightens your day, say 'I really like your shirt.'

Instead of trying to compliment somebody, just try to appreciate them, and then relax enough to tell them what you appreciate.

A compliment you manufacture for the sake of giving a compliment will probably come across as stilted and fake.

Actually, according to Cialdini's Influence, complimenting works even when people understand that it is, in fact, flattery: "First, the evaluator who provided only praise was liked best by the men. Second, this was the case even though the men fully realized that the flatterer stood to gain from their liking him. Finally, unlike the other types of comments, pure praise did not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true." [1]

[1] Specifically, he cites Drachman et al. (1978) study.

It's because people translate any compliment as a more sophisticated way of saying "I like you".

So, does that mean you are worse off providing genuine feedback if it is negative, if it is in your best interest to just flatter someone with false goodiness?

If you are in sales, yes.

> Kind of an odd article, the writer spends the first part of it trying to come up with compliments, which usually fail.

Personally I thought that part was hilarious. I'm not sure whether it was true or not (due to how naive it made the author seem) but I definitely enjoyed the article more because of it.

If you try this same sort of thing yourself, I think you'll be surprised at how naive it makes you feel.

It's a very foreign feeling, stretching for compliments.

Maybe I'm just shy/lazy, but the part about the author issuing 1100 compliments in a week also strains belief.

I think you made a nice summary of the article and astute observations as to what to take away from it. Thanks.

(So... How was it? Did it make you feel good?)

It came off like comment spam a bit to me. "I really like your insights!" or "This blog is great, I'll come back again soon." I guess you won't be able to compliment everyone or the cynical, but it was a good attempt and I think you'll be a great complimenter soon.

I've found it's even better to look for things you like (as you say), and then not say anything about it.

They'll sense you're well-disposed towards them because you are well-disposed towards them. You'll also feel happier, having noticed something you like.

This. Exactly this.

It's why alcohol makes social stuff easier - lowered inhibitions.

Remember nothing bad will happen if you just tell people what you think. Especially if it's positive. I promise. It won't be weird.

In fact, I've gone so far as making this a daily habit: http://swizec.com/blog/can-you-pay-one-compliment-to-one-str...

How about, "I find your wife/daughter/mother really attractive?" Bad things can happen if you tell people what you think.

It's important to be precise when giving public social advice, because the people that could benefit from it the most don't know how to tease out hidden subtleties (that seem obvious to everyone else). If what you really mean is, "nothing bad will happen if you just tell people what you think and have at least roughly average social skills" you should just say the whole thing.

Check back with us in a dozen years and tell us how many relationships you have destroyed. Somewhere in Ecclesiastes is the verse "There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silent." I don't think you have to be devoted to the Bible to agree with that one.

Plenty of things can go wrong telling people what you think.

This brings to mind another great esquire article. http://www.esquire.com/features/honesty0707

It's a practice truly strange to tell people exactly how you feel or exactly what is on your mind; however, it definitely leads to some truly sincere compliments.

No no no no. Absolutely not. Not, especially if its positive. Generally, only if its positive. I'm a slightly cynical person, so if I told people everything I thought, I'd probably be out of friends by now.

I think that could be the cynicism talking.

Perhaps all of the people who now are your friends might no longer be you friends, but your new habit could've brought you new friends who respect you for your candor, even if it is slightly cynical.

I have one friend who tells everyone what she thinks with no apparent filter.

Besides me, she has maybe two or three other people who like her company.

Nor are her opinions that noxious--usually she just says out loud very blunt versions of what half of the people are thinking. But you can easily imagine personalities with an even lower batting average.

All my friends are like that with varying syntax. I'm unsure how to interprete that, except that I like it because they are honest.

I don't really believe there is a state of total honesty between people.

There is always the inner person with dirty habits and nasty thoughts that you don't expose to _anyone_ however drunk you are.

It's why alcohol makes social stuff easier - lowered inhibitions.

It is only an illusion that it is "easier". It makes you feel better simply because it removes the ability to recognize the negatives of your actions.

As to the advice that nothing bad will happen, that's dangerous advice. Tell coworkers what you think and you'll quickly find yourself without a job or worse. Tell strangers and you're on a short ride to fights, pariah status, etc.

> Tell coworkers what you think and you'll quickly find yourself without a job or worse. Tell strangers and you're on a short ride to fights, pariah status, etc.

Radical Honesty (kind of cultish)


> Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you're having fantasies about your wife's sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It's the only path to authentic relationships. It's the only way to smash through modernity's soul-deadening alienation. Oversharing? No such thing.

Yes. I know. One of the most idiotic ideas ever, right up there with Vanilla Coke and giving Phil Spector a gun permit. Deceit makes our world go round. Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse.

And yet...maybe there's something to it. Especially for me...

When I get home, I keep the momentum going. I call a friend to say that I fantasize about his wife. (He says he likes my wife, too, and suggests a key party.)

I inform our twenty-seven-year-old nanny that "if my wife left me, I would ask you out on a date, because I think you are stunning."

She laughs. Nervously.

I assume that, in your radical honesty, you also told your wife about how you fantasize about your friend's wife. I also assume that you honestly relayed the look on the nanny's face when you hit on her.

After all, there's nothing radical about being honest only when it's convenient.

It's not very clear, but he's quoting from the article.

This frightens me, and I'm not sure why.

It disturbs me because it's quite selfish. It's okay to not immediately do what feels good like a child would.

On a completely different level of mundanity, here are 3 beautiful compliments:

Jon Stewart to SpaceX founder Elon Musk: You have invented a rocket, and a spaceship on the rocket, and you've launched this into orbit already, and brought it back. The four entities that have done that are: the United States, China, the Soviet Union, and Elon Musk.

Peter Forbes to physicist David Deutsch: To read him is to experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet and to understand it.

Cicero to historian Thucydides: He so concentrates his copious material that he almost matches the number of his words with the number of his thoughts. In his words, further, he is so apposite and compressed that you do not know whether his matter is being illuminated by his diction or his words by his thoughts.

I have noticed women tend to give a lot of empty compliments, and I have seen it more with women than men. I think this article is trying to get away from basic straightforward compliments with something more crafted, but it seems like the (rushed) conclusion was that something genuine that feels like it just had to be said is the best compliment.

Then the other day my husband and I went to the bagel place down the street and he randomly told a guy in a Pink Floyd t-shirt "great shirt" with a genuine smile to which the guy responded "thanks, I like it too". This really surprised me because my husband isn't extroverted at all and especially not before a cup of coffee. In fact, I don't think I'd ever seen him randomly strike up a conversation with a stranger. Its something I'm more likely to do. And then 10 minutes later as we sat outside this strange came out carrying our order and said with a jolly laugh, "where's my tip?" before heading to his car.

Something happened there, they connected and it felt nice. And I was just the observer.

We sat and talked about the interaction a bit, because we are in the suburbs before and pondering whether it was due to the fact that people in the city half expect you to be crazy but maybe our new town was different. If feel like I am still detoxing from living in SOMA for 2 years, but it reminded me just to be more friendly and open to people.

So maybe the best compliment is just one that is simple, well meant, and not overly personal or threatening. It sure felt good in that interaction, not at all like the shallow "nice shirt" exchanges amount women in Barneys or the creepy "nice shirt" exchanges with men walking by me on my way home from work.

I think a good compliment comes from your understanding of a person and in general you don't know enough about a stranger from a few seconds' observation to be able to make a meaningful one. And to follow a stranger so you can compliment them is just creepy in my opinion.

No one needs to follow anyone. Even before I read this article, I have been practicing this recently.

E.g. When I am commuting to NYC, if I observe someone wearing a nice shoes/tie/outfit or anything else which catches my fancy, I go and compliment them. Each and every time, it has brought smile to the person's face. Sometimes we often strike up a conversation and walk out from the station together and go on our own way. I am not saying that you should force yourself to compliment but if you notice something nice/interesting, it is definitely a great idea to let the other person know.

If some random person on the street compliments me about something, I'm immediately suspicious. It's what used car salesmen do.

Complement someone when you're introduced, or meet for some purpose. Complementing people you pass on the street seems pointless.

I understand your cynicism. I was just like you. But trust me, it's not necessary that you have to have other motives, you can really be genuine and sincere about your compliment. I do not actively work on trying to compliment people. The only thing I have changed is that if I have something nice to say to someone, I don't held it back anymore.

I think the core point that divides creepy/suspicious compliments and genuine ones is your motivation behind them. If you're searching desperately for something nice to say to the girl at the crosswalk because she has great cleavage, it's never going to sound sincere, and she will pick up on it.

However, the exact same compliment delivered out of a motivation simply to put a smile on someone's face can go a lot further. I used to wear quite quirky clothing and getting a compliment on my wardrobe choice would make my day. When I give someone a compliment, that's what I'm trying to achieve - I'm not trying to make myself feel good, or get in their pants, I just want to pass on some of the good will and good feeling that has come my way in life.

Paying a well deserved compliment is a point in itself - and when it works and makes the recipient smile, that makes me happy.

Little interactions that bring a bit of extra sunshine into the days of both people involved are a wonderful thing.

After a lot of travel to places where salesmen and conmen are pretty bold (like Turkey and India) I've gotten to where I'm fairly comfortable saying "no" to people asking me to do things I don't want to do (including "loan me a few bucks" or "come look at what I have to sell; it's not far", and so my fear of interaction and cynicism has gone way down. I can get out of it (and still be smiling), if I fall into a conversation I don't want.

If I look friendly and safe (i.e., playing w/ my 3-year-old on a NYC street) strangers talk to me, and it's pretty clear they aren't after anything.

So from the POV of the complimenter -- agreed, some people will be suspicious, and that's fine. Give your compliment, and keep walking so they know quickly that's all you were doing, and maybe they'll be a little less fearful next time.

I disagree, if it's genuine, why not tell them if the opportunity presents itself.

I get suspicious when someone compliments me. I guess for me, sarcasm and irony are both the rule, rather than the exception when it comes to "compliments".

I used to be like that - cynical and suspicious of anything somebody says. If someone said something nice about me, I'd automatically assume he was trying to sell me something.

I realized later on that life's too short for that kind of negativity. Most people simply aren't being sarcastic, they are genuinely trying to be nice.

I am surprised by the negativity in here. I was really impressed by the article because I know what it's like to feel dumb just after you've said something to a stranger.

Rather than contrived, it seemed to me that the author pushed himself to find something that he genuinely liked. Sure he gave compliments that he wouldn't have given before, and that's artificial. On the other hand, his natural tendency to compliment certainly increased over the course of the venture, so I think that artificiality served a fine purpose.

I think the effort the author put in probably took him from hour 5 to hour 15 on his road to 10,000 compliment-hours and mastery. Fear of failure is the surest way to stifle success.

It's rare for me to feel challenged by such a light fluffy piece. I'm not sure I could do what he did.

There's a case here in the Seattle area where a guy was put in a coma after complimenting another guys rims: damanlehman.com

Given the multitude of ways a compliment may be taken, I tend to only give them to people I know. And even then with great care.

As a policy informed by a small amount of anecdotal evidence, I urge you to reconsider. Your sample is clearly biased; the many, many cases of unsolicited compliments being taken well are not newsworthy. Further, the expected societal value of a compliment is positive despite whatever outlying cases exist.

This is certainly an extreme cases, but negative feedback from compliments is not uncommon. Just read the article. I've seen it plenty in real life.

For example, how often do you compliment women on their appearance? Outside of my family (wife, mom, sister), I never do.

I should note that I have no problem complimenting someone on a job well done (either work or in the community). But basically never on something one can observe by simply observing their appearance.

And I guess for myself personally, I've never received a compliment from a stranger that I've valued.

I frequently compliment women on their appearance. The trick for me is to appreciate something specific that they did. E.g., a choice they made, a technique they used, a skill they have developed.

That's in contrast to me approving or evaluating something, which implies I'm somebody with standing to judge them. It's in contrast to broad generalities. And it's definitely in contrast to commenting on inborn characteristics.

So for example, people are fine with: "I love how cute those shoes are with that outfit." It's appreciation (I love), specific (cute, shoes), it's about a choice they made (buying the shoes, matching with the outfit). The opposite end of the scale is "You're hot," which places me as a judge, is about me getting horny, is general, and is likely to be mostly about the body they were born with.

Precisely. The guy could have asked where the bathroom was and receive the same answer. It's just an unfortunate meeting with a psycho.

Interesting.. I like the way, you spent time and attention on details of the person you're observing and/or complimenting. Both time and attention being the most rarefied resources nowadays. Reminded me of the quote " the best gift, you can give somebody is your undivided attention"

So, comments based on people's superficial appearance usually fail, while actual compliments about something particular that a person takes pride in usually succeed, and by trying a lot you become more perceptive and compassionate in noticing these things.

Meh I hate such compliments. A compliment like this is not one.

It's empty. It's just a "look i'm cool and nice I say something nice just to say something nice"

I dislike when I hear those. On mean days, I'd often go "oh, thanks! so what's so good about my shoes compared to yours?"

And the person has no clue. They usually don't even come up with a lie, like "I like the shade/tint" or "the logos are awesome" or what not.

Because, again, it was empty and had no meaning. Generally, they did not like the shoes. They just "wanted to be nice". Happened that the shoes/umbrella/whatever weren't 100% usual, but they did not find anything they liked. Oh so wrong.

Did you read the second half of the article? It's about how the author overcame his urge to blurt out the first compliment he could think of. He learned to dig deeper and find something about the person that's truly commendable.

Which proves the point. Trying hard to find compliments is at best not genuine (and eventually it can be "cute"), at worst manipulative.

In most cases it's also easy to point out. People smart enough to do that properly are rare. (and usually manipulative :)

You can't really go wrong with 'I like your hair.'

I'm bald you jackass

Bald people are especially glad to hear how much people like their baldness.

I like your... lack of hair?

More often then not saying something isn't required. A simple smile can be a day brightening compliment.

A smile and a nod. The most unobtrusive way of conveying that you are friendly but still respecting others privacy/space.

There are people who get anxious if a stranger says something to them out of the blue.

Reminds me of when I did the Rejection Therapy challenge[1] (the game forces you to interact with strangers and get rejected). The trick for me was to try and find context in the situation - a shared experience we could both relate to that was non personal.

For example, if it's in line at a grocery store, I'd make a joke about the trash tabloids that are set up as an impulse buy. It's a safe way to start a convo, and a lot more natural sounding.

[1] http://rejectiontherapy.com/rules/

"You are beautiful... to me"


That's not even funny nor appropriate for HN. This isn't reddit. Don't say anything unless you have something to contribute to the discussion.

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