Giving Compliments Part I:
Keeping the Positive Energy Flowing

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, and knowing the complex swirl of emotions it can bring up in any family, I really wanted to plant a seed in your mind about something you might do to make it a happier, more bonding celebration.

It’s a simple idea, really, and it doesn’t cost a dime. This is it:

Give your mom some compliments this Sunday!

(Right now you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? I do that every year – it says it right there on the card I give her: ‘To the best mom ever,’ and I tell her she’s great, etc. etc….”)

That’s not what I’m talking about.

What I mean is, spend a little time thinking about who she is – not just in your life, but in the world – and what she’s lived through, and what she has accomplished. And – most of all – think about what’s important to her about her life. See if some new ideas for fresh, truly meaningful compliments come to you. Some that would light up your mom’s face when you say them to her.

[And p.s. – you can do this for other members of your family as well! Don’t be stingy….]

If this is feeling a little challenging to you, that’s great! It’s good to stretch yourself, and try on new ways of thinking and new behaviors that enrich your life by connecting you more deeply to others. Even the thoughts and behaviors that don’t come naturally…in fact, I’d say especially those!

Relationships with our mothers can be complicated.

Everyone has or had a mother, and as Mother’s Day approaches we are all bombarded with messages of loving our mothers. Some of our relationships with our mothers are close-knit, supportive and loving and it’s easy to share love, good feelings and many compliments. Some of us will be missing their mothers because they have passed on, or because their mothers are no longer mentally present the way they used to be. Still others will feel something’s missing due to rifts in their relationship with their mother that have caused a breakdown in the communication or connection.

As I have stated on many occasions, “relationships are easy when they’re easy.” But few relationships are simply easy; they’re complicated and complex.


What’s the Point of Giving a Compliment, Anyway?

Let’s look at the nature of compliments for a minute. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a compliment is:

  1. “an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration; especially: an admiring remark,” or
  2. “formal and respectful recognition: honor”

So in order to give a compliment it would seem that someone would have to be feeling pretty positive toward the object of the compliment, or at least about the feature or action they’re choosing to acknowledge. But I wonder: how often do we hand out compliments where that’s not the case, and there’s something else behind it?

How much genuine feeling is there in the compliments you give?  Are you being sincere when you give one, or are you just saying something out of obligation…or because you hope for something in return?  Just as you know whether a compliment you’ve received is sincere or not, when you give a compliment that is less than sincere, you’ll know it and so will the recipient.

In our family lives, we sometimes resort to using compliments as reward and punishment. We may resist giving a spontaneous compliment to a family member because we remember something they did that we’re still annoyed about – so we decide they don’t “deserve” the compliment. We certainly don’t want them to think we’re trying to butter them up, when it’s they who owe us an apology! Or we suddenly recall how the last time we complimented them they dismissed it like it was nothing…and we felt dismissed in the bargain. Why risk that again?

All of these scenarios carry with them negative, fear-based feelings that will undermine the giving of any compliments.


Something Worth Aspiring To

The thing is, giving a compliment is supposed to be an act of sincere generosity. First and foremost, it’s about letting someone know that you notice him or her. It shines a light on the fact that their work, efforts, job, style or behavior is appreciated, respected and/or admired.

Can you deliver your intended compliment openly, honestly and with sincerity? Or are you hoping or waiting for something in return? If you notice yourself calculating what you can gain if you say something nice, can you take a moment, and consider your true desired outcome? Then let that calculating, strategizing aspect go, and just give the compliment freely?

Can the compliment your offer stand on its own, so that the recipient can truly bask in the good feeling and pleasure of being acknowledged and recognized? That should be the goal.

And like everything else, when relationships or emotions are as complicated as they often are in life, giving a sincere compliment to another can take some practice! Try applying “The Three P’s:” Practice, Patience, and Perseverance to consciously strengthening your complimenting muscle.

See if you can up your game this Mother’s Day, and aspire to getting really good at giving compliments even in the most challenging situations.


Stay tuned for Part II next week: “Where Compliments Get Complicated”

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