Workplace 3 minute read

The Art and Science of Compliments in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide

Improve mental wellbeing and team cohesiveness in the workplace by opening up communication and encouraging positive enforcement through the power of compliments.

Compliments are a key component of healthy, open communication that helps foster psychological safety in the workplace. For this reason, understanding how to give and receive compliments is a powerful tool in the modern day workplace. 

Giving and receiving compliments—why it feels good

When we receive a compliment, we feel valued and appreciated—two core emotional human needs. In the workplace, feeling valued can be the difference between an engaged, well-performing colleague versus a disengaged, under-performing colleague.  

Not only do we emotionally respond to compliments, but physically, our brain’s response is the same as being paid monetary rewards. Some studies suggest that this brain activity is correlated with higher levels of skills consolidation—an integral type of learning we do in our sleep.

Furthermore, have you ever noticed how you feel after giving a compliment? Studies have shown that compliments also improve the giver’s mood, by allowing them to practise gratitude and strengthen their interpersonal relationships.

Why we hold back our compliments

Have you ever had the thought of paying someone a compliment but, instead, chosen to say nothing at all? According to research, it’s usually because of two reasons:

1. Imposter syndrome strikes

When we don’t feel competent enough in a specific subject, skill, or area of expertise, we lack confidence to compliment someone on that subject.

According to Boothby and Bohns, this is because our perceived lack of competency makes us feel too inadequate to be paying someone a compliment.

2. We underestimate their impact

Think of a time you were genuinely complimented. You felt pretty good, didn’t you?

According to Zhao, however, we tend to talk ourselves out of paying compliments due to underestimating their impact on others. Instead, choosing to believe that the recipient will think we’re being insincere, causing us to hesitate and stay silent.

 

Why is it important to compliment our colleagues? 

Complimenting colleagues can make a world of difference. It shows that you notice, appreciate and value their work. According to research, paying compliments in the workplace can have two big impacts:

Increases personal and professional satisfaction

Across business management and positive psychology research, it’s been found that receiving verbal compliments at work can have a significant positive impact on how we think of ourselves, and our jobs. Over time, this positive influence helps increase job satisfaction and wellbeing at work, resulting in happier colleagues. 

Improves professional engagement

When we receive a compliment, the reward centre in our brain activates and dopamine is released. In other words, we feel happier. 

When we’re complimented in the office, we’re receiving confirmation that we’re being recognised for our hard work. It makes us feel seen and valued, energising and encouraging us to stay engaged and do well. 

 

How to give a genuine compliment at work

Fostering a company culture that encourages giving compliments helps promote a more positive, safe and productive workplace. Quick throwaway “good job!”s and “nice one!”s, however, won’t add value to your workplace culture. 

To reap the benefits, the compliments need to be well thought-out, genuine and delivered with intention. 

Try following these guidelines to help you give genuine compliments at work:

  1. Make it personal to the colleague
    What specific skills or qualities did they display?

  2. Ground your compliments in a specific scenario
    When and how did they display them?

  3. Deliver the compliment authentically
    Use verbal and body language that’s typical for your relationship with that specific colleague.

  4. Consider the recipient's personality type
    Do they like to be publicly recognised? Or, would they prefer a more understated approach like a private conversation, note or email?

  5. Keep the compliment to the point
    Succinct, specific compliments translate far more genuinely than heaping generic praise on to a person. Keep your compliment short, sharp and sweet.

 

How to receive compliments at work

Many of us are too quick to diminish, brush off or even feel embarrassed when we receive compliments at work. 

This might be because you’re experiencing imposter syndrome or, you fear accepting the compliment will make you seem arrogant in front of your peers.

If either of these reactions feel familiar, try the below methods to begin graciously accepting compliments in the workplace.

  • A simple “thank you” goes a long way
    You don’t need to discuss the compliment. A genuine thank you shows you acknowledge and appreciate the kind words.

  • Explain why the compliment is valuable
    By linking the compliment to a specific feeling, insecurity or challenge you’ve experienced, you’re showing that you’re properly listening and appreciating their words. 

    “I appreciate you saying that, because I wasn’t sure if that aspect of my talk would make sense. So, thank you!”

  • Share rather than deflect the compliment
    When you want to acknowledge other people’s contributing efforts towards something you’re receiving praise for, don’t diminish your role. Instead, acknowledge and share the compliment. 

    “Thank you, me and the team worked really hard to get this off the ground, so we appreciate it.”

  • Appreciate without forced reciprocation
    Returning a compliment with one of your own can seem forced and awkward if you don’t genuinely mean it. Learn to be at peace with accepting the words without feeling the pressure to reciprocate.

 

Compliments make us feel good. In the workplace, they help remind us that we’re seen, valued and appreciated. This in turn increases job satisfaction, engagement and overall wellbeing in the workplace. 

In other words, we feel psychologically safer—something we all need to continue to feel good at work. Want to learn how to improve your workplace culture even further? 

 

Learn how to build  psychological safety in the workplace 

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Smiling Mind

Written by Smiling Mind

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