Call me Pollyanna, but I wish we could go back to a kinder, gentler time when a compliment was just that: a compliment.
Unfortunately, people have their “BS (bullshit) detectors” set so high that compliments are not often received in the good-natured spirit with which they were offered. In today’s reality, instinct (not to mention, survival) tells us to run them through filters for negative attributes first:
“he must want to sell me something”
“he must want money”
“he must want to climb the corporate ladder”
“he must be a suck up”
The sad part is that with each moment that is spent running the compliment through harsh negative filters, we diminish the generosity with which it was intended, we take away the random act of kindness it represented and we devalue its intended purpose: a genuine opportunity for human acknowledgement. Isn’t the latter what we are all looking for?
This is not new and frankly I have spent much of my life being called a “suck up”, because I am generous with compliments… sincere ones. Everyone has a tough journey in life and I know that the right words at the right time can make all the difference, especially when it comes from a complete stranger.
I am not shy about offering a smile and taking two seconds to point out something that was well done, to thank someone for their effort or to acknowledge the special skill or perspective that someone brought to the table. That’s it! There are no ulterior motives. I do not expect anything in return.
A few years ago, a good friend and I had a talk about that and he said that the first few times he met me he thought, “Is he for real?” After getting to know me he realized that I was a happy, upbeat guy just sharing his good spirit any chance he gets, with no hidden agenda.
I like to think that sometimes people go home at night and say, “I was having a rough day, and you’ll never believe what this total stranger said to me”, referring to a compliment or kind word I extended, which helped changed the direction of their day, even if just for a moment.
We hear all too often of people with an exaggerated sense of self-entitlement who treat people like crap and who use every trick in the book to do it.. including compliments. I would like to think I am making up for them in my own way, but it is an uphill battle.
Unfortunately, at one time or another, we have all extended latitude to someone who played the compliment card and then used it against us, and probably on more than one occasion. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”. So the wall goes up slowly one brick at a time, gradually closing ourselves off from receiving those moments of kindness.
My wish is for there to be a better balance. There is no harm in taking the compliment at face value, acknowledging it and THEN to raise the wall immediately thereafter.
A compliment can be about being supportive, being kind, in a moment of friendship, respect or admiration with truly “no strings attached”. Don’t miss it!
Delivering a compliment does not have to make someone a suck up and accepting a compliment does not have to make someone vulnerable. Knowing the difference can make a subtle gesture of kindness a game-changer in an otherwise tough day.
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One response to “The Fine Line Between Compliments and Sucking Up”
One of the advantages of being a rather mumsy middle-aged woman is that I can compliment people without them thinking I’m sucking up – usually. They may think I’m being sarcastic sometimes, which is a different problem. Unlike you, I had to learn to be generous with my comments, as my natural inclination is to criticise. It comes easily now, however, and I look out for things about which I can compliment people. The negative side is still there, but there’s more of a balance these days.