How to Give Sincere Compliments (& Make Others Feel Great)

Giving someone a sincere compliment can really make their day. It can leave them feeling more confident, capable, and enthusiastic. Giving a great compliment isn’t always easy to get right, however.

Learning the proper way to give compliments can make you more charismatic and charming. Feeling comfortable giving compliments can even leave you feeling better about yourself.[1]

Here are our top tips for making other people feel great about themselves with your compliments.

1. Be sincere when giving a compliment

The single most important feature of a great compliment is that it is sincere. Most people can tell quite easily whether you mean your words or not, so make sure you mean what you are saying.[2]

If you struggle to think of genuine compliments, it might be helpful to try a gratitude journal. Making a note every day of what you are grateful for can highlight the people who are important to you and what they bring to your life. You can then offer compliments based on what they mean to you.

2. Match compliments to values

The best compliments are based on something you or the other person (or ideally both) value highly. Being told that you are intelligent, for example, is more meaningful coming from someone who holds a PhD or appears to be very smart in other ways.

Pay attention to what other people value and be aware of your own values. Focus your praise on those areas. For example, if someone is really sporty, they might appreciate you telling them that you’re impressed with their commitment to their new workout plan. If you’re an avid reader, try telling them that you enjoyed a book they lent you and compliment them on their taste.

3. Compliment someone on what they are proud of

The most thoughtful and positivity-boosting compliments almost always address something they’re proud of. Pay attention when you’re talking to others and try to understand what they are most proud of.

Complimenting someone on something that they’re proud of can be mind-blowing, which makes it even more important that you are sincere about what you say. These compliments can be a great way to help a new team member or coworker build confidence.

You may also want to balance your compliment to include both their hard work and their achievement. This can demonstrate that you understand how much effort they put into what they have done.

4. Focus on something they chose to do or work on

Great compliments are more likely to be based on something the other person chose or worked on, rather than something they had no control over. Think about where the other person has been focusing their efforts and attention.

For example, if someone’s just moved into a new house, telling them that you like their garden will be nice. If they’ve spent the last 2 years creating the perfect outdoor space, however, the same compliment could make them feel incredible.

5. Give specific compliments

Generic, random or arbitrary compliments are less likely to have a positive response than specific ones.[3] When you are complimenting someone, you are trying to make them feel good about themselves. You are showing them what you appreciate about them specifically.

To help make your compliments more specific, think about why you like the thing you‘re complimenting. If you want to compliment someone on their cooking, for example, you might say that you love how fresh and healthy their recipes are or how indulgent their chocolate cake is.

6. Offer compliments without an agenda

A compliment feels more special when it is offered by someone who isn’t trying to get something from you.[4] This is why we can be particularly surprised and pleased by a passing compliment from a stranger.

Try making “drive-by” compliments. Say something nice to someone and then leave. This might mean telling a cashier, “Your nails look amazing, by the way,” as you’re walking away. Leaving or changing the subject straight after the compliment demonstrates that you’re not looking for anything in return.

7. Don’t make compliments about you

Make sure that your compliments really are about the other person, not you. There are lots of different ways that you can praise someone else whilst focusing on yourself. Catcalling, for example, is sometimes portrayed as a compliment, but it isn’t about making the other person feel good.[5] It’s typically about making the catcaller feel good about themselves or helping him bond with other men in his social group.[6]

8. Make compliments that are easy to accept

Lots of people struggle to accept compliments.[7] Try to praise others in a way that they can accept more easily.

Compliments can be easier to accept if you ask questions about the topic after offering your praise. This allows the other person to answer your question rather than feeling insecure about how to respond to your compliment.

For example, you could say, “I love what you’ve done with your hair. How do you get that kind of definition to your curls?” or “That report you did last week was fantastic. You gave loads of information while making it easy to understand. I did want to ask about some of those recruitment stats. Do you have time to talk about it now?”

8. Avoid compliments on sensitive topics

Compliments feel great when they hit something we feel proud of. Some compliments can be less enjoyable and even harmful. Comments on someone’s body or weight loss are particularly fraught. For someone with an eating disorder, complimenting them on their weight loss can make it harder for them to restore their mental health.[8]

Keep compliments positive and avoid topics that could lead to insecurities.

9. Don’t sound surprised

Compliments can also backfire if you sound surprised.[9] For example, telling someone that they said something clever can be patronizing if your tone of voice suggests that you didn’t expect cleverness from them.

10. Don’t qualify your compliments

Qualified compliments often come across as insults, even if you meant them positively.[10] Saying that someone is great at something “for a woman” or “for your age” won’t leave them feeling good about themselves. It feels like a backhanded compliment and can be demeaning.

Instead, offer your compliments without any qualifiers or comparisons. Focus exclusively on what you admire in the other person and ignore how they compare with others.

11. Try to stay relaxed when complimenting people

Giving compliments can leave you feeling vulnerable, but try to be relaxed. Studies show that we expect people to feel uncomfortable about receiving compliments much more often than they actually do.[11] If you are nervous or embarrassed about giving a compliment, the other person might feel awkward about receiving it.

The more you get used to giving compliments, the easier it is to relax. Practice giving compliments liberally, even to strangers.

12. Avoid putting someone on a pedestal

Giving someone too many compliments can feel as though you have put them on a pedestal. You might mean well, but this can leave them feeling that you don’t understand them.[12] Your compliments will be more meaningful if they are balanced.

If you find yourself idealizing someone, recognize that you might be putting them on a pedestal. Remind yourself that they are a real person with flaws as well as skills. If you think you might be idealizing someone too much, try to limit how many compliments you give them until you can be more proportionate.

13. Compliment your partner to show your appreciation

Regularly telling your partner what you value about them lets them feel appreciated and can help you build a better relationship.[13]

Compliments are a fantastic way to show your partner that you have noticed the efforts they are making in your relationship or their best qualities. Try making a special effort to compliment them on something that you find sexy.

14. Follow up and expand on your compliments

Sometimes people will assume that we don’t mean our compliments. They may believe that we are just being polite. Follow up on your compliments to make sure that others realize that you mean what you say.

If the other person tries to brush off your compliment, follow up with a little more detail explaining why you are so impressed with what you are complimenting.

For example, if you tell someone that you admire their enthusiasm, they might tell you that it’s nothing. You could follow up by saying, “No, really. Your enthusiasm always makes me feel better. If I’m not sure I can do something, I love talking to you about it. You leave me feeling so empowered.”

Don’t overdo this. If the other person feels embarrassed about receiving compliments, let the conversation move on naturally once you’ve made it clear that you meant what you said.

15. Compliment unusual things about a person

An unusual compliment can make the other person feel even more special, provided it is sincere. Try to notice something that other people might have missed and say something that isn’t obvious.

Often this means singling out tiny details. For example, if someone bakes you a cake, it’s natural to compliment them on the taste. Try complimenting them on how nicely decorated it is as well. You could say “Wow. I’m not even sure I want to cut into it. It looks so perfect. I have to get a picture of those icing flowers before I take a slice.”

You might mention to someone that they have very graceful arm movements when talking or that you appreciate the way they stop and think before replying to you.

Offering a creative or unique compliment shows that you have been paying attention to the other person. This can be especially effective in a romantic relationship. Giving your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife a compliment on something they didn’t realize you’d noticed can make them feel wonderful.

14. Talk more about achievements than appearance

Women, in particular, are used to receiving more compliments on their appearance than they do on their abilities or achievements.[14] While the occasional comment on our appearance is nice, compliments about skills and achievements stick with us and leave us feeling proud for weeks or even longer.

Think about what someone does that impresses you, and compliment them on that. You might say “You do such a great job balancing work and studying” or “I’m so impressed with how you handle it when one of your kids misbehaves. You’re a great parent.”

15. Don’t delay your compliments

Some of the most flattering compliments are those that come out of the blue. Don’t hold your compliments back until the right time. Instead, say what is on your mind straight away.

Making swift compliments makes them feel more spontaneous and shows the other person that you’re not just being polite. For example, try telling your mom how much you love her cooking as soon as you smell the food, rather than waiting until you’re in the middle of dinner.

16. Be aware of the context of your compliment

Even a sincerely-meant compliment can flop if you don’t think about who you are complimenting and where you are. Pay attention to context to give compliments that make other people feel good about themselves.

Giving someone a compliment can backfire if the context implies that you are superior to them.[15] Complimenting a coworker, for example, can seem arrogant if you sound like you think you’re their boss. Similarly, you might think that you are being nice by complimenting a woman in the gym, but you can come across as creepy or make them feel unsafe.

Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about how your compliment might come across in context. You won’t always get it right, and that’s OK. You can learn from your mistakes. If you think you may have misjudged the context, try telling a trusted friend about the situation. They might be able to give you some insight as to why the other person didn’t take your compliment well.

17. Smile when you give someone a compliment

It might sound obvious, but make sure that you smile when you are complimenting someone. Try to let your affection and your personality shine through your facial expression and your body language.

If you think the other person might not be comfortable with receiving a compliment, consider not making too much eye contact. If you think they might not believe you, however, eye contact can help to emphasize your sincerity.[16]

Common questions

Is there a limit to how many compliments you can give someone?

There is no strict upper limit to how many compliments you can give someone in a short space of time. Sincerity is more important than quantity. You can either offer rare, deep compliments or more frequent, shallow ones. Avoid offering a list of compliments in one go.

How should I give compliments at work?

Compliments at work can build good working relationships, but they should be kept professional. Focus on efforts and achievements rather than appearance. If you’re complimenting an employee or subordinate, be extra careful not to be too personal as this might come across as harassment.

How can I receive compliments gracefully?

Receive compliments gracefully by reminding yourself that you are only accepting that this is the other person’s impression of you. You don’t have to believe that they are right, just that they believe it. Try to think of a compliment as a gift and reply with a simple “Thank you.”

What is the KISS method for giving compliments?

KISS stands for Keep It Sincere and Specific. Giving compliments that conform to the KISS method helps you to avoid hyperbole and give honest, meaningful compliments that will make people feel great about themselves.

How can I compliment someone I have a crush on?

Give a guy or girl you like lots of minor compliments, with a few deeper, thoughtful compliments offered more rarely. Try to balance physical compliments (such as “you look cute today”) with compliments about their personality and abilities.

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Natalie Watkins writes about socializing for SocialSelf. She holds a B.A. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, an M.S.c. in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience from the University of London, and is currently in her final year of an MSc in Integrative Counselling at the University of Northampton.

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2 Comments

  1. Your tips and advice on compliments are the best I have read. Easy to understand, your examples were perfect. I’m learning so much from your techniques. I am actually coming out of my shell and instigating conversations, with the ability to be the first to move on. That was a part I’ve been awkward with, how to leave a conversation gracefully.
    Good job!

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