Compliments shared with acquaintances should be specific and genuine.

How to Give a Compliment to an Acquaintance

by Arlin Cuncic

Compliments help form the tapestry of social communication in their ability to create bonds between people. Although compliments should be given without the expectation of anything in return, offering words of praise to an acquaintance can have value to the giver as well as the receiver. Your words can have a lasting impact long after you recognize the good in someone else -- and may lead to more positive encounters with that person in the future.

Give compliments that are genuine and sincere. Psychologist Guy Winch warns that those with low self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to rejecting compliments that they don't believe are valid. Choose compliments that reflect your true feelings so that they are more likely to be well received.

Avoid compliments that are general and nondescript. For example, the old standard, "I like your shirt," doesn't carry much weight. On the other hand, offering specific and detailed compliments adds a personal touch to your communication that is sure to be remembered. A colleague is more likely to beam when you compliment the "spectacular color" of her blouse or the "unique pattern" of her scarf.

Take care when complimenting acquaintances in positions of authority. Those in management roles sometimes don't hear kind words as often as others, and so can be particularly grateful when given a compliment. At the same time, overly personal compliments are inappropriate for those you do not know well -- and could create friction between you and a supervisor.

Make compliments more meaningful by extending them beyond appearance to include personal attributes. Complimenting work performance, general helpfulness and personality attributes shows that you see the person beyond the exterior.

Give a virtual compliment. Christie Matheson, author of "The Art of the Compliment: Using Kind Words With Grace and Style," advocates using Facebook or other social networking sites to offer praise. Rave about an acquaintance's sleek new bob or her new pet grooming venture. The boost for your friend, says Matheson, is that all "397 of her other friends" will see it, too.

Be spontaneous. It is usually better to offer a genuine compliment that springs to mind rather than keep it to yourself. Too often we leave things unsaid because we think the other person "just knows." Not true, Matheson argues -- a compliment cannot be received until you extend it. More often than not, your acquaintances will be grateful and humbled by your kind words.


  • The most sincere compliments are often shared with people other than your acquaintance. Eventually the good word may be passed back to the person about whom you spoke highly.


  • Be careful about the timing of your compliments. For example, praising your supervisor in the middle of a staff meeting could be distracting and inappropriate.


About the Author

Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.

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