How to Compliment a Friend Without an Ulterior Motive

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Do you know how to compliment a friend? Why should you give out compliments?

In The Like Switch, Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins suggest complimenting friends if you want to improve your relationships with them. They offer a few tricks to compliment someone without coming off as insincere to ensure you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

Read below for the authors’ guide to being nice to someone in the best way possible.

How to Compliment Effectively

The authors note that compliments can be a great tool in any friendship. They make people feel good about themselves by pointing out qualities you value in them and celebrating their achievements. However, compliments can often come off as insincere, especially when you don’t know a person very well. When used ineffectively, compliments may be mistaken for flattery, which suggests you want something in return for your kind words. 

Schafer and Karlins offer a couple of workarounds that help you learn how to compliment a friend without them assuming you have an ulterior motive. First, you can send a compliment through a middle person. This involves complimenting your friend to someone you both know (someone who will tell your friend what you said). Your friend will still hear the nice thing you said about them, but it won’t seem artificial because it isn’t coming directly from you.

Second, you can make someone feel good by helping them to compliment themselves. Instead of paying a friend a direct compliment, make more generalized statements that highlight positive characteristics your friend can then realize they have. 

For example, if a friend wears an outfit you like, a direct compliment might be, “That’s a really nice outfit. You have good fashion sense.” To instead help your friend compliment herself, you could say, “It takes an artistic eye to put such a fashionable outfit together.” In the second option, you’re setting your friend up to think, “Yes, I do have an artistic eye for fashion.” She compliments herself by applying the characteristics you identified—an artistic sensibility related to fashion sense—to her situation.

According to Schafer and Karlin, people readily take chances to self-compliment. Additionally, when the compliment is technically coming from themselves, people won’t assume insincerity.

How to Avoid Pitfalls When Indirect Compliments Aren’t Enough

Schafer and Karlins’s methods for complimenting friends indirectly may help you compliment people without appearing insincere. However, indirect compliments may not always work. For instance, if you ask a third person to pass on your compliment, there’s no way to guarantee they’ll appear sincere or accurately communicate what you said. 

Likewise, making generalized positive statements won’t necessarily prompt a person to compliment themselves. If the person you’re trying to compliment has low self-esteem, they might disagree with you or fail to make the connection between themselves and the generalized positive traits you point out. 

If you want to try direct compliments instead of the authors’ recommended strategies, here are some examples of pitfalls to avoid:

Ambiguous compliments. These are often given sincerely, but the wording makes it unclear if the compliment to a friend was actually an insult. Consider possible connotations associated with your word choice before you speak. For example, saying “That was mature of you” to an adult can come off as patronizing. It should go without saying that an adult is mature. To remove the patronizing connotation, you could say, “You handled that really well” instead.

Too-frequent compliments. If you compliment people too much, you’ll seem insincere, even if the feeling behind your compliments is genuine. Complimenting with little discernment also creates the expectation that you’ll offer praise all the time. Then, if you don’t give a compliment when people expect to hear one from you, they’ll assume something’s wrong (even if it isn’t).

Envious compliments. When you point out something you admire about a person that you also covet for yourself, you’ll seem envious and make your recipient uncomfortable as a result. An example of an envious compliment might be, “Wow, I wish I had a dress like that.” Instead of phrasing the compliment solely in terms of something you want, you could say, “That’s a beautiful dress. You have great taste! Where did you buy it?” This alternative still expresses your interest in acquiring something similar, but it also centers your compliment around the recipient’s positive qualities.

How to Compliment a Friend Without an Ulterior Motive

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  • How to cultivate the qualities you need to attract and connect with new friends
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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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