When was the last time someone gave you a compliment? Do you recall how it made you feel? Did you notice how the other person took it? How good are you at taking compliments?
In celebration of National Compliment Day 2022, let’s explore the science of compliments and why we should give more of them. Compliments are supposed to make us feel good — both giving and receiving them and for the majority of people, this is true. Some people do struggle with this though.
Feeling valued and appreciated are basic human needs and are fundamental building blocks to relationships, both those with our partners and spouses, with our friends, family and colleagues, but how does it work?
A recent study where participants’ brains were scanned using MRI, researchers discovered that receiving compliments led to similar activation in reward areas of the brain, such as the striatum, as receiving monetary gifts. This amazing fact suggests not only that social and monetary rewards are processed in a similar manner, but also that social rewards can feel just as good as monetary rewards.
Research has shown that receiving compliments can improve performance and may help us learn. A study from 2012 suggests that when we try out a new skill – such as dancing, running, or playing an instrument, receiving praise helps our brain remember and repeat the skill. Researchers believe that, activating the brain striatum, maens learning that occurs during sleep is improved, a process known as skill consolidation. So by giving others compliments, we help them to learn and to perform better.
However, helping others learn is not the only advantage of giving compliments. As you may have noticed if you work in a team, compliments can help create a better social or work environment. And yet another benefit of praise is that it can augment desired behaviours, which can be useful not only in working environments, but also in raising children or maintaining stable friendships or romantic relationships.
If you hit a work-related challenge, knowing that you’re appreciated helps you want to work through and overcome that challenge. Paying someone a compliment can also be a good conversation starter — or a good way to get over an awkward pause or impasse in a conversation — whether it’s a conversation with someone you know well or have only just met.
Compliments benefit the giver, too. In the short-term we may get a warm glow from noticing the impact of our compliment on the intended recipient. In the longer-term, committing to a habit of giving compliments helps us be more mindful as we notice and appreciate what’s good and what we like in those around us. People who pay more compliments are also known to be more optimistic.
Not all compliments are received the same. Here’s some tips to help you get better at them.
1. Compliments should be sincere
It might seem harmless to tell someone something you don’t actually believe. The vast majority of the time, a heartfelt and true compliment is going to go farther than the insincere one and the person on the receiving end is likely to have some sense of how genuine you are being. Key to giving congruent compliments is paying attention to the people around you and paying attention to the details.
2. Be Specific
The best compliments are specific. They refer to character traits, behaviours, or appearance. Hearing that someone thinks you’re clever, kind or look nice is ok to hear, but those compliments apply to a lot of people. Naming something specific shows the other person you’re interested and paying attention.
3. Multiples Are Good
Ideally we’re giving and receiving compliments everyday in our close relationships, rather than taking one another for granted or only make a point of mentioning the negative things that need solutions. So making a conscious and concerted effort to notice all the good things about your colleague, friend or partner is important.
4. Be Careful With Low Self-Esteem
For people with low self-esteem, there’s actually some research to suggest that compliments do not tend to be well-accepted. This difficulty seems likely to stem from their resistance to information that contradicts their world view. People with low self-esteem hold on to their self-views, even if they are negative. Showing interest if this is the other person’s reaction may work better when it comes to strengthening relationships, rather than exchanging compliments..
5. Receive compliments with grace
Sometimes people feel uncomfortable receiving compliments because they were taught or think that accepting them equates to bragging. Compliments are about communicating with those around you what you appreciate and what’s working. Learning how to graciously accept compliments is just as important as learning how to give them. After all, denying a compliment is another way of telling someone that they’re wrong or that their opinion or perspective is wrong which can be perceived as rude.
GET STARTED TODAY
So to conclude, compliments generally feel good because they activate reward and learning areas in the brain. Why not make giving more compliments one of your goals for new habits in 2022. If you are stuck for how to begin, use gratitude as a simple and effective framework to build your compliments. Choose something which is a strength of the person and tell them how it impacted positively on you.
- psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0020310(opens in a new tab)
By Dr Becky Lunson Southall
Chief Therapist at InsideOut