Why We Should Give Compliments More Often
Updated: May 15
Last year, I started my own business. Which was really exciting but a bit scary at the same time. Because well... I was convinced it was a good idea but would others feel the same way and would they consider hiring me? These kinds of life changing decisions can make you feel a bit insecure... every now and then... trust me. But, let me assure you: I had the BEST year ever! Truly, it couldn't have gone much better. And the absolute icing on the cake was the phone call I received from Finland in December with a request to organise a session in Copenhagen. Which is not exactly round the corner, either. It was really exciting, obviously, that a company I didn't know yet was not only looking to hire me but that they were also willing to pay the additional travelling and hotel expenses and have me hop on a plane to get there? WOW! But what was most amazing of all was the reason they wanted to hire me. 'I got a red-hot tip. please don't say no'; that was literally what the person on the other end of the line told me. Isn't that the best compliment ever? It just makes me so happy. And, I don't want to blow my own trumpet but that wasn't the only truly amazing and overwhelming compliment I had the honour of receiving last year. After my session as speaker during the Women in Agile Conference in Amsterdam last November, I was left jumping up and down with joy when I saw the incredibly positive comments the participants had left behind on Post-Its (add picture). Great fun and all that, but it was also a tremendous confirmation that I'm on the right track and that those ideas I've been testing are actually working. Giving me the confidence to make a few more of those life-changing choices and take a few more steps that will help my company grow. And as a result I have some truly amazing things planned for the upcoming year. And that's exactly what I want to discuss in this blog: the power of compliments.
Did you know that 1 March is not only National Day of the Compliment in the Netherlands but also World Compliment Day? This day is dedicated to promoting the giving of compliments. Because it's been proven that compliments have such a positive effect on people. Unlike Valentine's Day or Secretary Day it's not a commercial initiative. It's most definitely not about giving someone an actual gift, which you had to go out and buy, but it is all about giving them a heartfelt compliment, and that makes me extra happy. That the person behind this initiative happens to be Dutch, is an added bonus for me. ;-) Although we're definitely not the only ones. I also found out that an American version takes place on 24 January.
Not only do compliments boost your confidence and make you feel good about yourself, they do so much more. On the Internet I found this really interesting blogpost by Suzanne van de Groep in which she gives an overview of several scientific publications. In short, receiving compliments does not only make you feel good but it has the same effect as a financial reward, it enables people to learn and better retain new skills and also contributes to a positive work atmosphere. As such, the positive effect compliments have on people is an important tool for a Scrum Master/Coach or manager. By making an conscious effort when giving someone a compliment you demonstrate your appreciation for that person, encourage their belief that they're doing alright and create a positive atmosphere that is vital when you are trying to bring about changes. If you can convince someone that they're on the right track, they’re more likely to try and do it again, to go that bit further and to open themselves up more for that pesky change that you're forcing on them. A compliment is super motivating. It is such a shame that in the daily grind those well deserved pats on the back are often forgotten because everybody’s too busy trying to bring about those changes and too focussed on the end result to see what's actually happening in the change process and the effect it has on people. So, let's try to give each other more compliments, shall we? Simple, right? Well, no. Not exactly.
For starters, it's really important that you're being sincere when giving a compliment. If you don't really mean it, it won't work. A compliment should actually address the topic your complimenting on, obviously. So if you're complimenting someone who's just given a really interesting presentation it's important that you name those things you took away from it instead of simply commenting on the pretty pictures that were part of the presentation. Those pictures were in there for a reason. It is also important that the recipient is the target of the compliment and that it doesn't in some sneaky way also applies to you too... because then you're fishing for compliments and that's not what giving a compliment is all about. The power of a compliment is the fact that you 'see' the recipient and 'acknowledge' their qualities. Which is another thing that makes me very happy. As you may know by now, I'm a huge fan of the pay-it-forward principle. I'm a firm believer of the fact that by sharing knowledge with others we all benefit. Which also means that it's important to acknowledge that we indeed benefited from that knowledge and give recognition where recognition's due by using compliments to complete the cycle.
A good compliment is a conscious effort. Not only are you aware of someone's performance, but you're consciously making an effort to respond to it. And that's what my work is all about: stimulating exactly that kind of awareness and interaction and to help people function better as a team and make them feel better about themselves. Not only is giving a compliment a conscious effort, the way you receive that compliment also has an effect on the person giving it. There is a reciprocity there that when it's successful is truly motivating for both. After an invigorating brainstorm session I sent my partner in crime the following message:
'I just have to say: I really loved our synergy together, I have confidence we'll make it happen.'
To which he replied:
'I like it when you speak from the heart, let's make it happen.'
So I have every confidence that the Scrum Master Bootcamp we are trying to organise will be a raving success! ;-)
What makes a good compliment also depends on the culture you're in. There are, for instance, big differences in the way people give compliments in the USA and in Germany. To make it even more complicated. :-) I already wrote a blog once about intercultural communication challenges, in case you're interested.
But what I really would like to know right now: who have you given a compliment to today and why?