Read time: 5 minutes
- Studies in compliment research demonstrate the benefits for both the receiver and giver.
- Most people underestimate the value of a compliment.
- Specificity, authenticity, and empowerment are key components to gifting a genuine compliment.
Too often we forget the power of our words. What we say, whether directed at ourselves or others, is extremely impactful. A compliment can simultaneously empower, uplift, and inspire change, yet too many of us often underestimate the power these simple words can yield.
When was the last time you doled out a genuine compliment to your partner? When did you last gift heartfelt gratitude to a family member, or praise a friend for one of their many traits?
In the midst of life’s everyday stressors—plus, the added chronic burden that comes with managing diabetes—it can be easy to forget the importance and benefit of compliments. Yet these small tokens of appreciation can generate valuable results for both the receiver of the compliment, as well as the giver.
Read on to learn how compliments scientifically work to produce such profound gains and how you can use them in your everyday life to better yourself and others.
Compliments Satisfy A Basic Human Need
A compliment is any expression of sincere praise or admiration of a trait, behavior, or attribute in someone else, usually conveyed through verbal or written communication. Compliments can fulfill our basic, human need for feeling esteemed by others as explained—most notably—by psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s theory is a five-tier model of the most fundamental human needs. The need for appreciation, accomplishment, and recognition reside in the fourth tier of Maslow’s theory (known as esteem needs) and play a significant role in motivating behavior.
This instinctive need to feel accepted is based on survival. From our tribal days, feeling a sense of purpose and belonging helped maintain a position in the tribe; knowing that one had a purpose in the group helped foster a feedback loop for contribution, cooperation, and collaboration, which resulted in the success of the tribe. In today’s more modernized and western world, feelings of appreciation have been shown to help form, solidify, and maintain relationships, increasing health and well-being by 50%.
Most scientists in the field of compliment research agree that compliments make us feel good—both in giving and receiving them.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that compliments can boost confidence. By acknowledging that you see value in someone, it helps the receiver of your compliment recognize the value within themselves and share that value with others. But receiving a compliment can have even further impacts. In one study from 2008, researchers found that receiving a compliment stimulates the same part of the brain that is activated by a monetary reward. Another study from 2012 found that receiving praise while learning a new skill helps the brain to better remember and replay that skill.
The value of compliments isn’t one-sided. While the receiver of a compliment may experience the most obvious benefits, the compliment-giver can also reap similar rewards. Offering praise can instantly shift energy and support the nervous system. Sharing a compliment requires the giver to look for good—it’s a real-life gratitude practice that is shared with another person. By choosing to search for and find the good in others, we automatically amplify our own perception of positivity.
Underestimating the Value of a Compliment
If there is such a breadth of goodness that comes from compliments, what holds us back in giving them?
Many people, it turns out, underestimate the power of their praise. In three different studies, scientists found that compliment-givers either underestimated how impactful their compliments would be to others or overestimated how uncomfortable a compliment would make the receiver feel.
Human insecurities seem to persist and overcome our best efforts. There are various moments throughout any day when we may notice a minor detail in someone else that we truly appreciate. But anxiety about how the receiver may interpret our compliment (perhaps we’re afraid it’s not genuine enough or maybe it would come across as patronizing) prevails, so we keep those nuggets of appreciation and gratitude to ourselves.
Those anxieties, though, have been proven to be unwarranted. In a study from 2018, Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley found that recipients of compliments rarely felt uncomfortable upon receiving positive feedback; in fact, recipients were typically delighted in hearing such heartfelt praise, reinforcing the value in simply sharing something—however seemingly small—that you appreciate in a person.
Our own perceptions of our social competence (or lack thereof) continue to hold us back from sharing genuine admiration. Once we let go of this self-imposed insecurity and begin sharing messages of appreciation, a sort of boomerang effect begins to emerge amongst both the giver and receiver, opening up an inspirational and uplifting dialogue that can bubble over into other areas of life.
How to Share a Genuine Compliment
To reap the psychological benefits of compliments, it’s important to get started with your own compliment habit. Giving sincere and honest appreciation can be tricky, though. To share meaningful praise with others without coming across as insincere, try using some of the techniques outlined below.
Focus on one specific quality or characteristic you see in another person. Don’t overdo it by trying to encapsulate various features. By specifically detailing what is so admirable in that person, you speak to their unique person and acknowledge that their individuality holds meaning.
When expressing a compliment, make it sincere in order for it to reach its full potential. How you express your compliment—in tone and body language—is just as important as what you say.
Compliments shouldn’t be entirely based on physical appearances. Be sure to include praise for confidence-boosting behaviors, like someone’s ability to hold a great conversation, their natural eye for art, or their infectious enthusiasm.
Share these tiny treasures with others. Help others see the good that you see in them. Both your lives will be the better for it.