20-40-60 Etiquette: Is it OK to still give compliments?
QUESTION: Has it become too personal to hand out compliments? I notice very few people tell others, particularly in the workplace, if they have done a good job, look nice or sincerely tell them something nice about themselves. Is that a lost art?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Some compliments can seem inappropriate based on gender relations and context. Try to keep work place compliments based on work. A few examples might be, “Great presentation!” “That email was very informative, thank you.” In regard to appearances, tread lightly.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: A lot of people are skittish about complimenting someone in the workplace because they don’t want to make people uncomfortable in light of harassment allegations that have surfaced in recent years. People also are leery of commenting on others’ looks for similar reasons, especially that we shouldn’t be judging people based on superficial looks. But I hate to think this practice has disappeared entirely; the world needs more people noticing the good in others instead of harping on the bad. If you’re going to compliment at work, keep it sincere and be mindful of how it comes across. If it is based on a striking outfit someone is wearing, keep it short and move on. And a “job well done” compliment about a project from a boss or a colleague should always be welcome; morale is higher when people feel appreciated.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Who doesn’t love a sincere compliment? Compliments can brighten a person’s day.
Maybe at work, people think it is too personal to show approval for how people look or act. Maybe compliments make some people uncomfortable.
Whatever the case, be considerate and kind, if you decide to speak up about another person. Hopefully, they will reply with a happy thank you!
GUEST’S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, community volunteer: Compliments are tricky business. In our hypersensitive world, words suffer greater scrutiny besides risk being misconstrued. As a result, adults are more likely to be reserved and apprehensive about sharing their thoughts especially in the office. Flattery goes along way. According the website Happify, “compliments are not only good for the recipients — but they’re good for the people who give them as well.” They note that giving thoughtful praise amplifies your own self-confidence and self-esteem.
The key? Be genuine in what you say and avoid simple observations like “Nice hair” or “Cute outfit.” A good compliment is thoughtful and goes beyond the obvious. It also focuses on achievements rather than physical qualities. A heartfelt remark might just make someone’s day.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email email@example.com.