Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Art of the Compliment

Criticism is an art that has been carefully explored and fully developed. There are so many books, classes, therapy sessions in which we can learn how to be "constructively" critical in personal relationships, with employees, colleagues, neighbors, etc. There are art critics, book critics, music critics of course. "Critical thinking" is a highly valued skill in my culture. At the end of art classes, teachers deliver "critiques" of students' work. I love that word, critique - it's so ... French??

But the art of the compliment has not been researched except in the context of manners. "This pie is delicious!" is, to me, not a compliment. It's something I say to be polite and often has nothing to do with whether the pie is wonderful or not. What I'm really saying is, how nice of you to feed me. Sometimes the pie IS wonderful, but I still think that kind of statement is more about good manners than about being complimentary.

"I love you!" or "I love the way you dress!" (or whatever) also seems to be somewhat to the leeward side of a true compliment. It's a statement of personal affection, it describes an emotional response to a person. That seems distinct from a genuine compliment.

Compliments are often hard to take in, hard to take seriously. It's embarrassing to be complimented unless that compliment is perfectly constructed and sincerely delivered, but without too much energy around it.

Flattery is far worse than a simple compliment. Flattery, given or taken, gives me the willies, even though I've used flattery more times than I care to remember, in an unconscious effort to get people to like me, I'm embarrassed to admit.

Yesterday I received two compliments from two different people, both of which were so skillfully articulated, and so masterfully delivered (with just enough spin, not too much) that I was able to take them in and feel happy to have received them. Wow. It is an art.

Someone should write a book about how to issue compliments with skill and finesse. Don't you think?


lacochran said...

It is definitely an art. To me it's about specificity and sincerity. I worked with a woman who would search for that "nugget" of distinction about someone and then express reasons on just how special that was. Never failed to have an impact.

Chimera said...

How elegently put. Howzat!?
T x beautiful pic

ArtSparker said...

I think of this mostly in terms of art, since I'm oriented that way...sometimes if I see a picture or film I like a lot, I just start laughing. Would it be understood as a compliment? It's not articulate.

By the way, you do know to expect a huge hoard of people over here Nov.5, right? Better stock up on gingerbread and tea.

rothko said...

Sometimes compliments are very easy to give and there's really no skill needed.

deborah said...

love the laughing comment because I laugh aloud every time I see the ocean

beautiful photo

all my love

Steve said...

My first reaction to a compliment is often a defensive gesture -- denying it, or minimizing it. I have no idea why I react that way.

Janelle said...

well. i jolly well hope one of them was mine....hmmmmmm? "keep on rockin' in the free world..."xx

Merle Sneed said...

I agree that a compliment should be specific.

"I love your dress", is not a compliment, it is an observation of the speaker. It is both implied and inferred that the comment says something about the dresses' wearer. It doesn't necessarily.

Adrianne said...

I react to compliments in much the same way as Steve. I usually try to deflect them and cast them aside as soon as humanly possible. In my case, I think it has to do with feeling insecure and undeserving.

lettuce said...

i so agree with you reya - i think lots of us, like steve, find it hard to accept compliments - and also, don't take the time and care to give genuine ones.

sad that the negative is often easier than the positive