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  • Tamar Balkin

Can An Olympic Commentator Teach Us About Compliments?

“You are so wonderful

To me

You are so wonderful

To me

Can't you see

You're everything I hoped for

You're everything I need”

You are so beautiful By Billy Preston, and Bruce Fisher (click here for the music)

(Both Billy Preston and Joe Cocker’s recordings are in the blog playlist)

Whilst this is considered a very romantic song, apparently Billy Preston wrote it as a tribute to his mother.

Regular readers would be aware of the benefits of recognising achievements, yet for some reason giving compliments isn’t common practice.

Why don’t we give compliments?

Concern about the consequences: Researchers have found that one reason why people are reluctant to give compliments is because they believe the recipient will feel either indifferent, or awkward. In fact, they found that people consistently underestimated how positive, and overestimated how awkward, their recipients would feel upon receiving their compliments.

Out of practice: The less often people give compliments, the less confident they are to deliver them. Researchers found that the more self-conscious the giver the less likely they will even notice a positive reaction in the recipient. In contrast those who give compliments more frequently, whether due to their personality, occupation, or random assignment to experimental condition, are better at predicting others’ reactions.

It is seen as selfish

“they will think I’m doing it to get something in return” Client

There is a perception that giving compliments, is a way of boosting the ego, that it’s a calculated selfish action to convey a false image of kindness and compassion. Although some people may attempt to manipulate others through flattery and false praise, it is not that common and generally transparent.

Not paying attention: The spontaneous experience of giving a compliment requires one to observe the behaviour of another person. However, when people are overwhelmed, burnt-out, anxious, or pressed for time, the chances of noticing achievements worth complimenting is slim.

People don’t know how to respond to a compliment

take the compliment with grace, and allow the positive feelings of warmth to rise up inside you”

Anonymous regular blog reader

When the recipient doesn’t receive the compliment appropriately it can create social awkwardness. The giver may feel stupid, for noticing and commenting on something so unworthy of praise. Or they may second guess their judgement.

Liz Clay missed a place in the 100m hurdles final by a tiny margin. “To miss out by 0.08 or something is pretty crap,” she told channel Seven. Despite her obvious desire to not have a post race discussion. The interviewer Jason Richardson politely took the audience through Liz’s journey to Tokyo, summarising all the literal and figurative hurdles she overcame to achieve a personal best in the Olympic semi-final. His compliments and kindness were noticed by the viewers but did they have an impact on Liz?

Why should you give compliments?

“Compliments tell a person they are worthy of notice. They are powerful gifts.”

Hara Estroff Marano

Regular readers would know that giving compliments enhance the wellbeing of both the giver and the recipient.

A genuine compliment can come to mind almost effortlessly, takes only a moment to deliver, costs nothing, and can be given to anyone.

How do compliments improve wellbeing?

Researchers have found that consciously focusing on positive thoughts about another person and expecting them to feel good improves the mood of the giver. Interestingly, giving compliments may actually make people feel better than receiving compliments.

Compliments are highly valued by recipients because they confirm their positive view of themselves, and are a signal of warmth and acceptance from another person. As people care a great deal about how they are judged by others, a compliment is a way of leaving people feeling good when they find out that they are appreciated by others. Thus receiving compliments serves to elevate the recipients self-esteem and sense of belonging.

On a neurological level, receiving compliments led to similar activation in reward areas of the brain, such as the striatum, as receiving monetary gifts.

Interestingly, researchers have also found that compliments improve not just motivation to remember new information but also the consolidation of the information into memory.

It seems that compliments are a perhaps a source of fuel for the contagious nature of positive emotions.

How do you give a compliment?

Whilst spontaneity is encouraged, regular readers would know that taking a little bit of time to think about how to deliver a compliment can elevate its impact.

  • Know what really matters to the other person.

  • Notice something that in your opinion they do well that is aligned to their values and or your view of their strengths

  • Be very specific

  • Deliver the complement as immediately as possible

  • Give the compliment verbally, thus using the richness of your tone and non-verbal cues to enhance the experience.

Final thoughts:

Researchers have found people underestimate the negative impact of antisocial behaviours like deception, insults, or rejection, on others. Thus, emphasising the need to be more cautious in all interpersonal interactions.

Finally, thank you to Xuan Zhao and Nicholas Epley for making their interesting practical research freely available in pre-print form.


References :

Zhao, X., & Epley, N. (2021, June 4). Insufficiently Complimentary?: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Compliments Creates a Barrier to Expressing Them.


Sugawara SK, Tanaka S, Okazaki S, Watanabe K, Sadato N (2012) Social Rewards Enhance Offline Improvements in Motor Skill. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48174. (n.d.). The Art of the Compliment | Psychology Today. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Aug. 2021].

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