“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
For whatever reason, my takeaways didn’t hit me over the head quite like they did during 90 Strangers. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything important or that the experiment was a waste of time—that couldn’t be further from the truth. The lessons learned and changes observed were just much more subtle ones, and took a little more introspection to realize:
1. The Ultimate Conversation Starter
If there were ever such a thing as a foolproof conversation starter, I think the compliment just might be it:
- It gives some sort of direction to a new conversation—want to talk to someone nearby but can’t think of anything to say? Find something to compliment them on.
- It lets the other person talk about themselves without the outright directness and pressure of the standard “interview questions” (e.g., Where are you from? What do you do?). As Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People, everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.
- Encourages exiting the headspace and being much more observant of the world around you. Getting good at observing the features and behaviors of other people then extends on to everything else in your environment. This ensures that you’ll just about never run out of things to talk about.
- They’re mutually beneficial. Compliments make people feel good. And people gravitate toward (and talk with more) those that make them feel good.
2. More Personal the Compliment=Stronger the Emotional Response
Merely by coincidence (remember, no one knew the details of the experiment as I was conducting it), while doing this experiment I received three compliments that impacted me in a big way for one reason or another. These re-lit my passion toward the project and served as a reminder of why I decided to do it in the first place:
- One was merely about an article of clothing I had on, but it happened to be one of my favorite. That small gesture made me feel great for the remainder of the day.
- Another was about the layout and design of this website from someone that hadn’t seen it before. That made me feel good for several days. Hell, revisiting that compliment in my head still makes me feel good.
- The third was a text from a friend (that I have only known about a year) that I woke up to randomly one morning. It was detailed, reasonably long for a text, hit on several traits I value about myself (including some things I didn’t know I valued about myself at the time), and was extremely out of the blue. This was about a month ago now, and I still think about and look at it again and again.
The feeling that last one gave me made everything I had been complimenting people on seem trivial; this is why I said in the last post that my biggest regret was not paying more of these deeper, more personal compliments. There have been compliments given over the past few years about my writing (a few are on my about me page) that I still revisit whenever self-doubt creeps in—the staying power of a good compliment is limitless.
This would be a hard thing to measure (without having people fill out a kind of weird post-compliment survey) but it seems that the more personal the compliment (going off small, anectdotal evidence), the more positive the emotional response. I think it also holds true that the more personal the compliment, the harder it is to give.
I think everyone knows how powerful praise (and conversely, criticism) can be, yet it’s just so easy to forget. Once I got a few weeks into this project I feel that I may desensitized myself in a way, forgetting just how influential words can be.
3. Cashiers Are Money
I’ve always encouraged (though it’s not my original thought by any means) chatting up cashiers whenever possible, and 90 Compliments reaffirmed that they are the absolute best resource for someone wanting to improve their social skills:
- They are a captive audience.
- They can’t really be rude to you.
- Most are going to appreciate having someone talk to them or do anything to break them out of their “How are you? Did you find everything you need? Paper or plastic?” routine.
- Even if you “crash and burn”, it’s 100% guaranteed they have had more awkward interactions in the checkout line.
And typically the only time someone will say something other than debit or credit to a cashier is if they have a complaint. I know from my time working in food service that the smallest compliment can make someone’s day.
4. People Are Comfortable With Praise
When I was younger, giving a compliment made me feel like I was possibly putting some sort of unwanted attention or pressure on the other person. This probably stemmed from the fact that I felt weird receiving compliments (and still sometimes do).
Call it hyper-humility, but I genuinely didn’t know what to do in the focused light of attention when I was given a compliment, especially when others were around. And I certainly didn’t know how to accept one graciously—I either mumbled thanks and buried my eyes to the ground or I over-accepted and just generally looked like a douche by basking in the compliment and letting it go to my head.
So I had my preconceptions about what people’s response patterns would be like—and they were completely blown away. Maybe it’s just a standard thing that happens in adulthood, but I can’t think of one instance (discounting the children I complimented) where the person didn’t receive the compliment graciously or where it seismically inflated their ego (that I could tell, anyway). In hindsight it seems like a silly thing to have worried about.
5. It’s A Skill
I mentioned already that giving praise, for a variety of reasons, can be difficult for some. It’s incredibly easy to cruise through life on autopilot and assume everyone ‘knows’ everything that they could possibly be complimented on—but obviously that’s not the point.
Unless you are one of the lucky people that grew up with a very social disposition, getting comfortable with giving good compliments is something that requires conscious action and deliberate effort.
Good compliments are genuine and often spontaneous. These two aren’t mutually exclusive; the more comfortable one gets with spontaneously dishing a compliment, the more genuine it will feel to the receiver. And that comfort level grows simply from repetition, practice, and staying present. If there is a fear of having an awkward interaction as a result of giving a compliment, 99% of the time that only happens because the compliment didn’t feel genuine to the other person.
Finally, depending on where someone is in their development, getting good at giving compliments can require a complete mindset shift. For people that go about life with a critical and/or negative mindset (I used to be/still sometimes am one of them), this could be the hardest part. However, learning to focus on the good in others is well worth it, for reasons beyond completing a complement challenge.
That’s it for this experiment. If becoming more social is a challenge you are dealing with in your life, I think 90 Compliments in 30 Days (or even just 30 in 30 days) is a perfect starting point. If you take the challenge, let me know how it goes in the comments or by shooting me an email!