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The Art of the Compliment

One of my areas of work is with clients with social anxiety. Striking up a conversation is difficult, and giving a compliment even more so for many people. First, we practice in the office, and then in vivo.

Genuine compliments actually create a surge of dopamine and serotonin for both the giver and the receiver, making them a pleasurable event.

Some Tips on Complimenting:
Focus on What You Like About Them
As billionaire Virgin founder Richard Branson writes about in his struggles to overcome social anxiety, focus more on the people you’re interacting with than your nerves or fears. What do you genuinely enjoy about them?

  • “ I like the way you get so excited about your projects…”
  • “ Your laugh is so great that it makes me smile from across the room.”
  • “ You are excellent at what you do. It’s inspiring.“
  • “ You look so elegant.”

Don’t be Trite
Research shows that “you’re hot “is not on the list of compliments rated as noteworthy. There is an abundance of scientific evidence that further emphasizes the importance of non-physical compliments. Psychologists at Southern Methodist University and Florida State University surveyed couples for relationship satisfaction associated with positive body valuation (compliments about appearance) and positive valuation of non-physical qualities (compliments about personality). They found that women in particular actually formed negative associations with compliments that valued only their appearance, but did not demonstrate a positive valuation of their non-physical qualities.

Furthermore, a number of people have body related concerns and worries. A physical compliment can actually be offputting, which is usually not the intention of the giver.

Speak Your Truth
When your nerves feel overwhelming or something feels awkward, call it out.
‘I’m a little nervous.’ ‘ I don’t really say this very often, but I enjoyed your presentation so much and wanted to thank you.’ The more you can own it without feeling the need for the other person to validate you or make it ok, the more authentic you’ll be.

SLOW Down and FEEL It
Even if the compliment you’re saying is true for you, but you’re all up in your head worrying and not feeling or enjoying the words you’re saying, the delivery will come off forced, robotic, disconnected, apologetic, fake, or some combination. Slowing down the actual speech can help you actually feel and enjoy the words. We tend to mumble or speak quickly when we are nervous. Practice speaking slowly and clearly.

Let Go of Attachment to Outcome
When you go talk to a person you like, you may have a particular outcome you’re hoping for. Let go of being attached to whether they take the compliment in or not, say it because you mean it.

Beware of Rudeness
In a 2019 Quora survey, participants were asked about the most misguided compliments they’ve ever received. One woman was told she was pretty ‘for an Asian,’ another was told: “You’re pretty, so you don’t need to know math.” These kinds of “compliments” are not compliments at all, and come across as incredibly insulting.

Don’t be Creepy
Being approached by a stranger while alone is a red flag for many women, and the last thing you want to do when trying to compliment someone is accidentally scare them.

Catcalls are NOT Compliments
Over the past couple of years, women’s groups have started viral campaigns that demonstrate just how demeaning and uncomfortable catcalling is. Noa Jansma, an activist from the Netherlands who runs the viral Instagram account @dearcatcallers, takes selfies with every man who shouts at her on the street, declares that being catcalled is “not a compliment”, ever.

Whether it’s anxiety, expectations of outcome, or inaccurate information about what constitutes a genuine expression of regard, compliments can be learned and practiced.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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