Complimenting Coworkers
Without Being a Suck-up


Complimenting your coworkers is a natural thing to do.  Not only is giving a compliment a great segue to a conversation, it shows appreciation and positivity.

But is it always the right thing to do?

As with many interactions, it depends on the situation and how you approach it.

Personal Boundaries

Remember when you've walked into a conference room or a break room and heard a coworker doling out shallow compliments? 

"You look great!"
"I love your shoes (dress, tie, suit, hairstyle, etc.)!"
"You're so awesome!"
"I knew you had it in you!"

Granted, when you were spending five days a week and several hours a day with the same people in the work arena, some sense of familiarity occurred. 

When you're at work, your level of professionalism is going to be noticed.  Whether in real-time office space or working from home, humor or false compliments can come across as flirtatious or patronizing.

Impulsivity, then and now, begins to sound insincere and others might label your actions as "kissing up."  But these days, with teleconferencing, we are all seeing what each other sees and hears.

Complimenting Coworkers Appropriately

So, yes, extending a compliment to a coworker, boss, manager, or anyone else at work is a good and positive thing.

However, in order for your compliment to be appreciated and received as sincere, you have to give it in an appropriate manner.

  1. Make your compliments specific.  Instead of simply saying, "Great job!" you might say, "I really admire your tenacity in winning over those new clients.  That's great work!"
  2. Once a day is enough.  Contributing to employee morale is important, especially if you are the one in charge.  But the morale in your company will plummet if you can't be taken seriously.  When you constantly compliment people, they begin to wonder where they really stand with you.  Perhaps you might tone it down and give one specific, sincere compliment to one person each day (or every other day).
  3. Keep it professional.  Your compliments to people at work should be about work.  If you happen to stray from this rule, let it only be because you know your coworker really well on a personal level in addition to working together, and understand that you still have a professional image to uphold.
  4. Don't be embarrassing.  Not everyone can gracefully accept a compliment.  Extend your compliment, pause for reply, then continue the conversation.  It's not necessary to go on and on as if the person doesn't get it. Your smile and eye contact will go a long way in raising the comfort level of you both.

Practice is a Good Thing

If you're an insincere, impulsive "complimenter," or if you think you're just terrible at it to begin with, there is hope.  Like any other mannerly skill, complimenting coworkers (or anyone else) can be learned.

Observing the four guidelines above is a great start. And there's more.

If you refrain from compliments because you don't like to be complimented, then start slowly.  When you receive a compliment, the only necessary reply is, "thank you."  Practice this in front of a mirror several times.  It gets easier.

Then move on to giving compliments.  The once-a-day guideline is helpful here, because you can consider each compliment you give a practice session.  Good habit builder!

Pretty soon, you'll begin to appreciate the reactions you get and you'll learn the true secret of complimenting:  giving them is much more fun than receiving them!

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