The Power of Paying Compliments

One of the most neglected skills in our personal life, in business life and in customer care is paying compliments to people – be they employees, colleagues, customers – and definitely for our children and spouses. We should never, ever neglect to do so because it has such a powerful effect of people.

Who of you reading this doesn’t like receiving a compliment? Maybe the most cynical 1% of the world’s population. But the rest of us respond well to even the most trivial compliments.

I think I know why we tend to not do enough compliment paying. We often think that people may think we want something, especially when it comes out of the blue. Sometimes we are aware that it may cause offence or be seen as sexual harassment. Occasionally we may judge positive behaviour or actions as pretty trivial compared to where we are in our lives – even though for the receiver it was quite a challenge. And often we are just too busy to remember.

But paying people compliments is one of the most important ways of improving people’s performance, and encouraging desirable behaviour, and also leads to people performing better in their immediate next tasks. It creates warmth and breaks down barriers – or at least breaks the ice between strangers. It displays how kind and generous you are, and it boosts individual self-esteem and team morale. In a business context research reported by Emily Murray proves that paying compliments can be just as powerful as cash awards.

But when it comes to customers, paying compliments helps them to reinforce what a great choice they made choosing your business, and encourages them to buy more, buy more often, and bring their friends. It makes them feel more intelligent, and more willing to share their opinions with you and their connections. One of the biggest benefits is that it creates an obligation to repay the compliment in some way – often with more than the original act.

For customers, compliments can reinforce their choices, intelligence and opinions. Pumping up any one of those helps customers trust and like you more. But it’s easy for studies to look good on paper. It’s real-life examples like these that make the power of compliments come to life.

At one SPAR branch near Harrismith, a little old lady who always struggles with her money broke her walking stick in the store. This was exactly what the manager had been looking for to show his caring, and he immediately bought an expensive and sturdy brand new walking stick for her, telling her she was one of his favourite customers. She was grateful – and months later told her big-deal son who had come to visit for Christmas about her experiences at the store.

The son came in to thank the manager for taking care of his mother, and spent more than R10000 in one morning to stock up on groceries for his family.

In a classic experiment recorded by Perdue University, two (male) psychology students spent time every Wednesday for a few years paying compliments to passers-by. They would say simple things to students like, “I love your T-shirt,” and “I wish I had hair like yours.” When they saw staff from the university they would say things like, “Thanks for all the hard work you do here,” and, “I loved you lecture last week.”

Apart from the fact that many other students started doing the same, even outside campus, and starting a “Free Compliments” movement, (and even a company sponsored a tour to spread the goodwill,) there was also a tremendously positive impact. People smiled a lot more at each other, and felt better about themselves and others every Wednesday. The students moving between lectures would actually re-route themselves between classes just so that they could hear the compliments. Lecturers reported less negativity and more compliance.

And it doesn’t have to even be live: A young high school student in the USA, Jeremiah Anthony decided to use Twitter, and created a Twitter handle @WestHighBros where he could tweet positive messages and compliments about his school, friends and classmates.

Apparently after encountering a story about bullies torturing their victims via social media, Anthony decided to strike back by creating a Twitter account for which the sole purpose was spreading positivity to his classmates. He decided he had to change the message.

So far, there have been 4642 tweets, (including 106 photos/videos,) and there are 5079 followers from everyone involved with the school. Messages are sent to people who are having a bad day and need a pick-me-up, and to show encouragement and a small act of kindness to people experiencing challenges. They use the medium to share inspiring quotations, and to motivate people to do better. They send messages to staff who have gone out of their way to support the students. Students are happier. Teachers are happier. The world is a better place.

In a world where, if the media is to be believed, humanity is in a downward spiral that is so fast and furious that we aren’t sure where to begin, or how to get back to a world that evokes feelings of happiness and safety instead of shock and sadness, it is a near certainty that the best way to fight negativity is with positive messages and kindness. For every adverse and hostile act that is committed, there are many acts of kindness that are possible – and may go unnoticed.

We are the only ones able to change the climate of the world we live in one compliment at a time, one act of kindness at a time. I’m sure many of you think I am naive, but please try it just once today. Just give someone important one small compliment, and highlight one small or wonderful thing that was done by someone. This magazine has tens of thousands of readers. Imagine the impact that would have on your world! And then tomorrow, do just one more.

Words can be so powerful, and we might all be surprised by the enthusiastic impact this can have. As one tweeter shared in Jeremiah Anthony’s Twitter blog: “Find the good in the world. Find the good in others. Find the good in yourself.”


Back to Articles and Resources.