Mastering the Art of Compliments: The Power of Positive Feedback

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Full transcript

This video is an excerpt from my upcoming course Building Rapport: Going beyond small talk with advanced communication skills. If you like the video, check out the link in the comments to view the course.

Let’s talk about mastering the art of compliments, the power of positive feedback when it comes to building rapport and deep connections with people.

So positive feedback is definitely a powerful connector, so long as it’s balanced with accurate negative feedback. You see, one of the biggest problems you’re going to face when it comes to giving people compliments is that they’re either not gonna believe the content of compliment – their self worth issues will doubt their what you say is true – or they don’t believe in you and your intentions. They think that you’re being fake or a people pleaser, you’re just saying it to get a result or just to be nice.

But if they know that you’re also the kind of person who will give it to them straight if they’re doing something wrong, and you have no shame in speaking up and standing up for yourself when negative things are happening, then they’ll have no reason not to believe your positive feedback.

So it is good to skew towards the positive just in general, to be optimistic about people, to look for the good in them and try to give them recognition on that, knowing safely that if you were to do that, that’s actually the best way to promote pro social healthy behavior. People tend to do more of what they’re complimented on, rather than doing less on what they’re criticized for. Positive feedback leads to more positive behavior than negative feedback does.

So the general approach you can take is look for the good in people. Look to recognize that as often as possible. But do not hesitate to speak up when something negative happens.

Now the problem with most compliments is that they’re often judgmental. And what I mean by that is when you compliment someone, what you reveal is the kind of criteria with which you judge people. If, for example, I say you look really pretty today, what I’m really saying is I judge you on your looks. If I say like, you did some good work there, what I’m really saying is I judge you on your competency. So you’re revealing how judgmental you are, often how superficial you are, the kind of standard you hold for people, what easily impresses you and so on. And this is why a lot of people are resistant to compliments, it’s because what you reveal about yourself is something they find distasteful.

So one of the first things to notice is: Do you tend to compliment people or wish to compliment people on things that they can’t actually really control all that much, things like looks or natural talent or luck, and you’re not really complimenting them on their integrity, on who they really are and what they’re trying to achieve and how well they’re achieving that.

You also have to be careful with compliments, because compliments are validating. So let’s say somebody’s doing good things, but for the wrong reasons, and you say yeah, that’s really good. They’re gonna want to do even more of those things, even if it’s bad for them. This is why my biggest problem was trying to recover from being a people pleaser and a nice guy, because I constantly got validated for people pleasing. So I’d do more of it, I’d chase that kind of reward.

It would have been better off for people to validate the times I was courageous, or the times I was assertive, or the times I was honest, because those things actually meant something to me, those were who I really wanted to be. Instead, I rarely got complimented on that stuff, if anything I got criticized.

So powerful connecting compliments are all aimed at what the person’s intentions are, the person they’re trying to be, their integrity, their authenticity, and how closely aligned they are to that. And with this perspective, you can even compliment someone on something that you don’t like but you know it’s the right thing for them. Like maybe your son quits College, and you’re actually all about education, but he isn’t because it’s always been his passion to become a professional gymnast. And he dedicates everything to gymnastics. Now you might really be against that. But you can understand from his point of view, this was an act of bravery. This was him standing up for himself. This is him doing what he believes is the right thing to do with his life that gives him meaning. You can compliment him on that. And you should.

Remember, complimenting isn’t about validating someone for being the way you wish they were, but rather recognizing that they’re being the way they wish they were.

Choose efforts over results. So when you look at someone and they’ve got good results, actually it doesn’t even matter if they’re good results or bad results, take a step back and look at the process that they went through to come to those results. And ask yourself: Is there something good in that process?

For example, somebody might be really muscular, and you could give them a compliment on their appearance. Or you could compliment them on the dedication to diet and exercise that they must have gone through to achieve their physique.

“Hey man, looking at you I can tell that you just must eat so super strict and be hitting the gym all the time. Like that takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self respect, well done.”

The thing is I can give that same compliment to somebody who’s clearly overweight, but they come back from the gym covered in sweat, and they push aside the cake and they eat some chicken breast. I can say like, right on, dude, I admire you as much as the guy with all the muscles, I mean, you’re just him at an earlier stage in the process. I get it. I get what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Keep doing that, because it’s clearly good for you.

This segues nicely into my next point, which is choose health over appearance. So people can’t really choose that much about the way they look. I mean we can pretty ourselves up and wear clothes and all that kind of thing, but our bone structure and our genetic health, a lot of that’s out of our control. But our health is very much a conscious decision. Even somebody who has a chronic illness or a disability is either managing it the best they can or they’ve given up on themselves, you know.

And somebody who looks really healthy might be doing it in an unhealthy way. There’s a lot of exceptions to the appearance factor. Appearances can be deceiving. I know lots of very beautiful people who actually treat their bodies quite poorly, they’re going to pay for it later but they look beautiful now. All that smoking and drinking will catch up with them one day.

So instead, you can look to how healthy people are being, how much do they respect their bodies, how much effort do they put in to resist the temptations and do the right thing for themselves, and compliment them on that rather than some end result that might actually be down to luck and they might not actually be being healthy.

Choose bravery over success. Now success, as much as successful people like to deny this, is mostly about luck. Even if you’re a really talented disciplined person, your genetics and your upbringing made you a talented, disciplined person. So that’s good luck. But bravery, the ability to choose discomfort, is difficult for every single human on this planet. Right. That’s why we have a word for it. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have a word for it. So somebody might not be as successful as their peers or the other people you know, but they’re taking bigger risks, they’re putting themselves into more uncomfortable situations. They’re working against worse luck than the other people. And they should be recognized for their efforts there.

Sometimes there are people who are very successful, but they coasted there. They were spoiled, they had a lot of good luck. And they didn’t do much with it. And they’re actually playing it safe. I know a lot of people who are in very well paid jobs, for example, but they took the easy way out. They just did the university course that made their parents happy, and then they took a job from their dad, and they just stayed at that job and people pleased their way up to the top. I mean, that’s not bravery. They might have a lot of money in their bank account, but there’s not a lot I can compliment there.

Whereas I might find someone who just moved from living on the streets to living in a one bedroom apartment, through sheer grit of begging for jobs and humbly eating whatever he could find and doing whatever it took to get out of his situation, and that’s bravery.

Choose values over social acceptance. Generally, what I’ve found working with clients for so many years, is that people with high integrity aren’t super popular. And the people who are super popular, don’t have high integrity. There are some exceptions, but not many.

So what you’ll find is that often somebody living with integrity will do things that other people don’t approve of. They might get ostracized, they might be ridiculed, they might not have a lot of friends. But if you look carefully, what they’re doing is staying true to themselves, which is different to just being say, socially awkward, or deliberately contrarian and annoying. So if someone’s staying true to themselves despite the social backlash, that actually takes a lot of grit. That’s a person with a really strong core, because we’re all wired to try and fit in socially, so to go against that wiring takes a lot of hard work.

But if somebody else is much loved by people, and very popular, and so on. Well, we’ve learned this the hard way, haven’t we, over the last few years, with celebrities coming crashing down when we find out about their secret lives. A lot of very popular people are rotten at the core. Not all of them, but generally to be liked by many, you have to cater to the audience, you have to do things that are generally liked rather than being very specifically unique.

So for those people who might not be at the center of attention, and might not be the most popular, have a look like, what are they standing up for? How do they stick to their values in spite of knowing it’s going to cost them socially? And you can reward them for that.

Show people what you admire and respect about them, and tell them why. This is probably the most powerful form of compliment, to either say I wish I could be more like you, or I respect you because we have this thing in common and I know how hard it is to be that thing.

The last point, try to ask permission before you give someone intense feedback, even if it’s positive feedback. If nothing else, that helps them pay attention. If you just start with something like, Can I be honest with you about something? A lot of people will expect negative feedback after you say that, and they’ll be ready for a confrontation, so when you give them positive feedback, it has this kind of relief surprise factor to it that doubles the value of it. So it’s not meant to be a trick, but it kind of works that way.

Like when I was a manager, I’d call people into my office and they’d always think they were in trouble. But most of the time, I was giving them a compliment. Most of the time, I was giving them recognition. And I made it a big deal, just like people do when they’re giving negative feedback and make it a big deal: let’s go talk privately, I need to address this thing with you. But we can do that positive feedback to like, look, sit down, there’s something I need to tell you… You’re my favorite person and the way that you stood up for that young boy the other day, really I admire that because I’m just not brave enough to do stuff like that and I wish I was I wish I was more like you.

Like, they’re gonna remember that for the rest of their lives probably. That is a powerful compliment.

Thank you for watching. If you want more support to master your social skills and build deep connections with people get in touch

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