Everyone loves a compliment. After all, hearing another offer a bit of praise makes us feel warm inside, confirming a piece of ourselves, often one that we’re a bit unsure of. By definition a compliment is “a polite expression of praise or admiration.” And not only do we enjoy receiving compliments, but we’re also programmed to give them as a tool to help create certain environments, behaviors, and outcomes. We utilize compliments as a method to raise our children, promote productivity in the workplace and strengthen relationships. In fact, we even bestow them on our pets as we train puppies to sit, go outside and stay off of the living room furniture. In essence we praise others’ behaviors when they please us. Positive reinforcement is often the motivation behind a compliment.
But are there other reasons why we compliment others?
Several years ago, I cut my hair short – very short. I remember how surprised I was that I received the most kudos from other women who had short hair themselves. Hmmm.
Then this summer, when I darkened my hair, I saw a similar pattern. The majority of individuals who said that they liked my new look were brunettes. This made me wonder. Is it human nature to compliment things that fall in line with our beliefs, preferences, and appearance? And then I asked myself – Did I do this? If so, when?
Immediately I reflected upon talking with teens in the midst of the college admissions process. Was I more enthusiastic in my conversations in situations when these kids considered schools that I went to (or members of my family attended)? Yup. Then I thought about running. Was I more apt to commend others for finishing a marathon than I would be for achieving a high accolade in a sport that I knew little about? Guilty as charged. The truth is that it’s natural to praise those who look like us, act like us, and think like us – who do things that we value. It makes us feel comfortable, safe, right. In fact, acknowledging another’s efforts can function as a mirror – when we complement those who look/act/think as we do, in essence, we are affirming who we are.
But what if we were to make an effort to compliment those different from ourselves – people who don’t do as we would, look like we do or believe what we follow? Could we praise what is uncomfortable or different to us, but is excellent in its own right?
Once I started thinking about the backstory behind compliments, another question came to mind… What is the effect of the compliment on the receiver? Will another’s kind words inflate us, inspiring a spark within?
When I hear something positive about myself, I can’t help but feel more confident in that area. During my teenage years, if someone gave me a compliment revolving around my performance on the tennis court, their words made me want to practice harder, be better and achieve a higher position on the tennis team. The idea that another thought I had talent stoked that belief within. But the real question is – while flattering – should compliments drive our confidence?
Perhaps a valued individual’s praise gives our ego an initial boost. However, in order for us to sustain true confidence, we must believe that there is legitimacy in these words. Everyone in the world can shower us with flowery phrases, but if we do not believe these compliments to be accurate, then there is no true confidence. Maybe you’ve heard stories from famous models who, despite fabulous careers, never felt that they were beautiful. Or of the acclaimed athlete who didn’t believe that he or she possessed an extraordinary ability.
Compliments most definitely can cause us to look within and decide whether or not we, too, see or believe what another has recognized. Often it is what helps us discover our inner strengths. However, others’ accolades cannot sustain our belief in ourselves.
It is only when we acknowledge these talents that we glow brighter. For when we believe in who we are and what we are capable, that is when the beauty happens, the dreams unfold, and the mysteries become magical.
So, don’t wait for another to affirm the light inside. Look inward, find your unique gifts, and shine on!