coworkers having conversation at work
JUNE 5, 2017

How to Give Compliments at Work Without Being Labelled a Creep

By: Lisa Helm

Complimenting someone at work, particularly if they are the opposite gender, can feel like a loaded interaction. If you find it easy to give genuine compliments, that’s great – this article isn’t for you. But if you have given compliments in the past that haven’t landed well or you feel awkward about telling a co-worker that they did a good job, read on. When someone has done a truly good job on something and you would like to express your appreciation or admiration, there are smart ways to go about it that won’t leave you labelled as the office creep. Here are a few things to remember before you send a compliment to someone in the office.

1. Take a moment to consider.

Why are you giving a compliment? Often, when we want to tell someone that they’re great, it’s because we want to feel good about ourselves; we want a specific reaction that will make us feel good about giving the compliment. Before you offer a compliment, consider what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, and WHY you’re going to say it. If you genuinely want to express appreciation, go ahead! If you want to feel good for saying something nice, carefully consider your phrasing before you open your mouth.

There are also power dynamics to consider when giving a compliment, especially when it comes to gender disparity. Telling your boss in front of everyone that they did a good job on a task that is basic to their job can come across as condescending and minimizing. Instead, you could tell them that their advice really helped you or their mentorship has meant a lot.

2. Focus on achievement, NOT appearance.

I cannot stress this enough. This applies particularly to men giving women compliments in the office, but it certainly goes both ways. If you’re constantly giving someone compliments about how they look and not how they work, it is minimizing and demeaning. Instead, focus on the great work they’re doing. Caveat: complimenting a piece of clothing is great (Nice jacket!), but making it about their body is NOT (that skirt makes your ass look amazing). Here are a few more phrases to avoid:

  • You are so hot!
  • I really appreciate that you look so nice at work all the time.
  • No wonder the client likes you – look in a mirror!

Instead, try:

  • Thanks for your help with this project – you really helped me out!
  • Way to keep the client on track in that meeting!
  • This is exactly what I needed – thanks so much!

3. Don’t go overboard.

One super-quick way to get labelled a creep is to compliment someone every time they open their mouth; save the compliments for genuine achievements. Also, don’t stick to solely complimenting one single person in public all the time; if you feel the need to tell a co-worker how much their input has been blowing you away, do it privately (and once) over email or in person.

4. Choose your moment.

Should your compliment be public or private? That is really up to you, and it also depends on the relationship you have with the person. If you feel the need to recognize someone in public, make sure you make it short and about them, not about how great you are for recognizing that they’re doing a good job.

Also consider the person. If this particular person is really shy or would hate to be singled out, send an email instead of mentioning anything in person. If, however, they would love to be singled out in public for doing a good job, then go ahead and single them out.

5. Don’t expect anything in return.

A “thank-you” is ALWAYS enough. A compliment does not buy you a coffee, a dinner, a conversation, a project, or a promotion. If you’re a man complimenting a woman, you may find that she’s a little wary; you need to understand that many women have experienced compliments that are transactional: “I complimented you so you owe me your attention.” This common experience is why you need to examine the reason for the compliment before you say anything.

One great way to make it clear that you don’t expect anything in return is to make the comment and then move on (either physically or topically). For example, “Hey, Jen, you did a great job on that report – it made my job a lot easier on that project. I have to run, but thanks a lot!” or “Hey Tom, thanks for the quick turnaround on that copy – it’s exactly what the client wanted, so good job! Now, about this other project…” This way, the person can appreciate the compliment in their own time without feeling like it puts any pressure on them.

Remember, “you are so hot” is not an office compliment. Keep it professional! If you focus on how the person helped you out or made your job easier, the compliment will be easier to manage for both parties.

What do you think? Any tips that I missed? Do you disagree with any of these points? Let us know in the comments!

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