20-40-60 etiquette: Should man keep giving compliments?
QUESTION: I am a 68-year-old happily married man. When I was growing up it was always considered a sign of a gentleman to compliment a lady when it was appropriate. I do that now and I am reprimanded by my daughter who said that that is not a proper thing for me to do. I do realize that there is a shift in our culture that makes these things seem a little creepy however, I still think it is nice to be nice. Is there a way to give a compliment in this day and age?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Every woman likes to be complimented. That being said, a light compliment “you look very nice tonight” should be said once. Complimenting a second time is for a significant other to do.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: A sincere compliment can be welcome, and it sounds like you are genuinely trying to make the world a better place. But if your daughter is suggesting that you back off, ask her to help you understand why. Are you only complimenting a person’s looks? Are you doing it too often? Is it sincere or is it forced? Are your compliments geared toward gender? Compliments are a lovely way of recognizing someone for their abilities, especially when they mean something. But if you dish them out to everyone you see as a way to flatter them, your words may come across as shallow. Once you understand how you’re perceived, then you can tweak your actions and your words to reflect your desire to be kind.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Be genuine and positive. A compliment can be simple. “I appreciate you,” is always good. “You have a good laugh,” is easy. Effusive words are not necessary, but I don’t see anything wrong with telling someone they “look nice” if it is the truth. In the workplace, we have gotten away from compliments, although if someone does a good job, I think it is very appropriate to tell the co-worker.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Joe Hight, Edith Kinney Gaylord Endowed Chair of Journalism Ethics in the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Central Oklahoma and director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame: It's still OK to be nice, but you have think of why you're being nice and the interpretation of the individual who is receiving the compliment.
It's best not to give gender-specific comments, especially about looks or appearance. Determine whether the compliment is appropriate or in the appropriate setting. For example, compliments about looks are never appropriate in the workplace and never have been.
Find other ways to be nice, such as sincerely saying that it's great to see a person again or more general comments that cannot be perceived as inappropriate. Listen to your daughter, too. She sounds like a perfect guide for you in today's society.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.