Life Style

The Psychology Behind Compliments


“I really like your outfit”, “I love your new haircut”, “I love how well you spoke during your presentation”. Such simple and short sentences can make our day. Psychologists say that appreciation is foundational in any relationship, be it with your partner, your parents, your friends, or even your coworkers. Compliments are the tool through which we communicate that appreciation.

Upon being asked, as many as 90 per cent of people believe that they should compliment each other more often. Yet, people shy away from expressing their appreciation and gratitude to others. Let’s look at the reasons why compliments are good, why people tend to not give others compliments, and how to give better compliments.

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What Is Good About Compliments?
A. Mood Boosters:

Compliments are known to have mood-lifting effects on you, and they improve your well-being. Compliments make people feel good – both receivers and compliment givers. Neuroscientists have shown that verbal affirmations light up the same areas of the brain as a monetary reward does. Compliments are especially effective in workplace environments. Praise and gratitude by seniors can keep up morale, make the employees feel valued, and mitigate the effect of stress on them.

Read More: 9 Tips to Ensure a Positive Work Environment

B. Good Ice Breakers:

Compliments are very effective as a conversation starter. If you have been meaning to spark a conversation with a stranger, paying them a compliment is a great way to get it started, as it establishes a positive connection between the two. Even if it’s a friend you have not spoken to in very long, a compliment can help you get over the awkward bump and resume conversation.

C. They Promote Learning:

Research has shown that praise and compliments can promote quicker learning of new behaviours and motor skills. They also help us like one another. If you compliment someone on a behaviour, they tend to repeat it more often. This can be attributed to the classic psychological phenomenon of learning through positive reinforcement.

We have seen all the benefits of compliments. Intuitively, it seems as if the world would be a much better place if everyone complimented each other a bit more. Then why do we not compliment people more often? Let’s look at some of the reasons researchers have found for the avoidance of paying others compliments.

Read More: How Can Be an Expert With Social-Emotional Learning?

Why Do People Not Compliment Each Other More Often?
1. Underestimation of Positivity:

In an experiment, researchers recorded how people anticipated their compliments would make the receiver feel, and how the receiver actually felt about receiving a compliment. Their findings indicated that often, people tend to grossly underestimate the positive effect their compliments have on other people. With both strangers and friends, researchers found that compliment-givers tend to believe the other person wouldn’t enjoy the compliments or it wouldn’t have much of a positive effect on them. But the receivers consistently reported that their day has been brightened after the compliment and they felt better than givers expected.

Read more: 7 Positive Psychology Habits for everyday

2. Overestimation of Negativity:

People also tend to avoid paying compliments to others because they feel that they’ll make them feel uncomfortable or awkward. However, the experiment results showed that the compliment givers had drastically overestimated how bothered, uncomfortable, or annoyed the receivers would feel. The receivers received the compliment in a positive manner in most cases.

Read More: Why You Should Be Pessimistic?

3. Anxiety about communication:

Although most people believe in the positive value of compliments, when it comes to complimenting others, people tend to avoid it. The barrier is self-doubt. You might feel pessimistic and anxious about how you deliver the compliment, and you might worry about if your delivery was awkward, but that’s largely irrelevant. Usually, the message that you convey matters more and leaves the receiver in a better mood.

4. Fear of devaluation:

There is also a common belief among people that repeatedly complimenting others will diminish the value of the compliment, and it would become less and less appreciated each time it is given. However, studies have found this to be untrue. Much like how you need food and nutrition every day to replenish your body, you also need compliments to replenish your mind. Affirmations are a recurring need, and contrary to popular belief, receivers feel the positivity of compliments each time similarly.

Also Read: The Psychology of Fear

Now that we are aware of why we avoid complimenting others, and how those reasons are based on unfounded biases, we must do our best to increase the supply of compliments and praise in the world. Let’s look at some of the ways in which we can improve our compliments and make them feel more genuine to maximise their positive effects.

How Can We Give Better Compliments?
  1. Look at compliments from the receiver’s point of view: A strategy to overcome the bias that your compliments might make the other feel uncomfortable, or you might end up being awkward, is to put yourself in the receiver’s shoes and imagine how the compliment would make them feel. This can allow you to focus on conveying warmth instead of being worried about the manner in which you deliver the compliment.
  2. Be Sincere: Although it is nice to call somebody’s shoes pretty even if you don’t actually find them nice, sometimes, people can recognise when a compliment is insincere. Try to compliment people on what you actually feel about them, that way your tone and body language complements what you are saying.
  3. Pay attention and be Specific: People tend to feel better when you pay attention to specific things about them and compliment them on them. It makes people feel appreciated about things they have put an effort into. So, instead of telling someone how nice they look, instead, tell them what part of their appearance appeals to you.

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