I’m sure we all know that receiving a genuine compliment has amazing power. It can make you feel better about your day, your outfit, your hair, yourself. Until recently, I must admit I’d never really thought about the power that giving a compliment has. Turns out, it’s even better (for me, at least).
I suppose I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable paying people compliments. There’s a lot of reasons for this, ranging from not being a particularly great receiver of compliments (what are you even supposed to say when somebody says a nice thing to you????) to being afraid the person I’m complimenting will think it’s stupid… which is perhaps why it helped to start with strangers.
I work in retail, which means I interact with a huge number of strangers on a daily basis. There’s something remarkably liberating about speaking to somebody and knowing they’re leaving in a moment. Yes, the thought stays with me if I say something I think must’ve sounded especially ridiculous, but in general I find it much easier to forget these interactions if I’m likely never going to see the person again.
My casual compliments started a few months ago, when I noticed a man in the distance wearing the coolest trousers I’d seen in a very long time. As luck would have it, he came into my shop and I made the decision to tell him I really liked them. I didn’t think about it too much, I might never have done it otherwise, I just told him. I was waiting for the inevitable awkward “thanks” when instead I got a very happy, very smiley response of genuine gratitude. The trousers, he told me, were new. This was his first time wearing them and he’d been feeling really self conscious about them. We had a brief conversation and it turned out that he had been trying very hard to be braver in his fashion choices, and wear clothes he really wanted to wear rather than sticking to the same few styles he’d worn for years. He was nervous about it, and me complimenting him had made him feel much better about his outfit.
This was a clear turning point for me. However awkward it may make me, I know first hand how my feelings about myself can shift after being complimented, particularly when at random or perhaps by a genuine, well-meaning stranger. As somebody who struggles so much with their self-esteem, maybe I should be taking my personal experience using it to try and boost others.
That’s exactly what I started to do, and over the last few months I’ve been making a conscious effort to say if I like someone’s outfit/hair/glasses (glasses are a big one for me – is that weird?) So far, I think I’ve maybe only had two people who seemed uncomfortable and/or outright dismissive. Mostly, people are happy to receive compliments, and every so often you find a person who seems like maybe their whole day was just shifted. (One girl, for example, was generally so cool and well dressed that I told her I couldn’t decide what to compliment her on, because I loved her whole look. She left the store beaming.)
All in all, what I’m realising is the true power of simply being kind. Not nice for nice’s sake, but being sure to speak your kind thoughts aloud. It seems to be helping others and honestly (perhaps selfishly) I think it’s helping me too. I am becoming more confident in my interactions with others, and it’s allowing me to feel more comfortable paying compliments to people in my daily life, too.
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: this post is not supposed to be holier than thou and it is not intended to paint myself as some wonderful saintly ego-booster. I’m not even trying to make you start complimenting strangers. More than anything, it’s to point out that the simplest thing can make another person feel good, and that I think it’s okay if that makes you feel good too.