The paradox of compliments

At three o’clock, next to some tableclothed snacks, two grown women reunited after 12 years. She spotted me first by the pretzels, and I had to glance at her lanyard – it had been that long. Then this near-stranger said what stopped me. “I just love the work you’ve been doing. I’m so proud of you.” And walked away. A compliment without an ask.

Whatever you feel about compliments, you probably rarely give them. While we’re comfortable giving feedback, our culture is set up to critique rather than congratulate. Like my “busy” habits, there are a number of practices I try to keep:

Compliment strangers.

See also:
I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Your job is to critique, to lead, most likely to do so with colleagues you already have. And you’re busy. Stopping to say something – particular something positive – isn’t always constructive. But for every time you suggest an improvement – to a restaurant, to a product company, to a friend – say something unconstructively good. Say something that won’t change a single course of action. Say it in a quick email to someone you don’t know. Make a point to make positive points to people doing good work.

Make people uncomfortable.

Because your job is to critique, you probably find yourself giving and receiving it often. Receiving the opposite, then, tends to make people uneasy. What do we do with niceties? Unsolicited, they can even breed suspicion. Make someone uncomfortable and leave it at that.

Send thanks.


When you make it a practice to practice giving compliments, the opposite may start to feel like the paradox.