The Art of Appreciation

Originally posted on April 22, 2012

By Scott Westerman
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain

There are too many complaints and too few compliments in today’s world. Nothing brightens someone’s day like an appreciative word.

Giving and receiving a compliment is an art. What you say must be both truthful and genuine. I know people who struggle with praise on both sides of the fence. For some, framing gratitude is hard. You may have grown up in a household where it was in short supply. The simple act of communicating esteem feels uncomfortable. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who feel that they must immediately short circuit praise with, “I was just lucky” or “I’m not really that great”. When you do this to all intents and purposes, you are insulting that person who complimented you.

Valorie Burton tells us that there are four simple guidelines for giving a powerful compliment:

1. Be Specific – Think about what it was that inspired you to complement them. “You did a great job organizing this weekend’s event. It’s obvious that you put a lot of thought into the details and it really showed.”

2. Acknowledge Their Character – Valorie says, “When complimenting an accomplishment, don’t just acknowledge what the person did.  Acknowledge who they had to be in order to accomplish it.  Point to a person’s character traits, such as perseverance, kindness, thoughtfulness, loyalty, humor, calmness, creativity or courage.” For example, “It took great courage and tenacity to do what you did. I admire that about you.”

3. Be Authentic – Develop the ability to see the good in others. Make eye contact. Speak from the heart. If you don’t really mean it, don’t say it.

4. Express Your Appreciation – Tell them how their actions impacted you. “What you did for my daughter really meant a lot to me. I’m proud of her and what you are teaching her will make her a better person.”

On the receiving end, LisaMarie Luccioni, writing in Psychology Today recommends using the time tested magic words that always work in any situation. Say, “Thank You!”

In many instances good things are the result of a the work of many. It’s ok to say, “Thanks very much. I work with an outstanding group of people and this was a real team effort.” Never disconfirm a compliment by diminishing it. And fight that urge to “out compliment” the other person. Avoid saying things like, “Thanks, but it was your leadership that really made it happen.”

And as you receive, also give. As G. B. Stern notes, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone”. If you receive praise on behalf of your team, make sure you pass it on.

Each of us knows someone who has made a significant difference in our lives. It’s easy to take them for granted. Don’t. Authentic appreciation is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give. It’s something that the recipient will always remember.

This week, be especially aware of someone who has helped you, helped someone else or has done a particularly good job. Practice the points in this message and tell them.

As the old saying goes, “Gratitude is the best attitude. ”

Listen to an audio version of this message.