5 tips to safely compliment a co-worker

Business People Doing Work Sitting Late In Office by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

Safely complimenting your co-workers

Looking at Google search stats we were somewhat surprised that 'gender neutral compliments'  came up as a common search term for visitors to our site.

Feeling there could be anxiety about phrasing a compliment that's psychologically safe, we've put together our top 5 tips for complimenting people at work.

1. Make the behaviour that you appreciated the focus

By being specific about the behaviour that you appreciated you show appreciation and you also help your co-workers to know which behaviours to repeat.

This could be recognising simple things that someone does once, or recognising that someone always does something that you appreciate.

There's a distinct difference in impact between vague compliments such as "Good job on the report Daisy", and being specific on a point of difference "Daisy, thank you for taking such care in formatting the report."

2. Connect the dots to the co-workers' impact

Whilst it's nice to know that a behaviour was noticed, it is even more rewarding to know that it had a positive impact.

By highlighting the positive impact that a behaviour has, or the result of it, there is an instant sense of reward for the person being complimented.

When we include impact in a compliment, it can be much more powerful.  "Daisy, thank you for taking such care in formatting the report, it was very easy to read and understand."

Another way of connecting dots when you compliment a co-worker is to link the behaviour being appreciated back to company values.

That might look something like "Daisy, I enjoy that XYZ Co. value simplicity, so thank you for taking such care in formatting the report. It was very easy to read and understand."

Structuring a compliment like this reinforces shared values as well as appreciated behaviours.

3. Use emotion (not to be confused with emoji)

Sharing the way that you feel can be powerful in communication. This applies to compliments and also corrective or adjusting feedback and coaching.

You are the owner of your feelings, so sharing how someone else made you feel is a reflection by you, not a judgment of them.

By changing up the previous feedback to add some emotion we can humanise a compliment so that it is authentic and not impersonal.

"Daisy, thank you for taking such care in formatting the report, it was not only easy to read and understand but also beautiful to look at. I kept going back for another look."

Now things are getting a bit wordy, but in doing this we are building up a rich picture of our experience for the person being complimented to understand.

Consider the opportunity for satisfaction, memorability and learning for Daisy from all of that detail in contrast to something like "Daisy your report was 🔥".

4. Ask for permission

Whilst you might think that everyone loves to be complimented, that is not supported by data.

In a survey of 400 people by Beyond Thank You, around 70% of people associated feelings of embarrassment or discomfort with receiving a compliment.

Digging a little deeper what people get anxious about is being taken by surprise, and being put on the spot to process and respond.

Creating a safe space to compliment someone in private, and asking for their permission can reduce or remove the element of surprise for them.

Choose your words carefully here. "Daisy can I give you some feedback?" is full of threat signals and will send Daisy into flight mode in an instant.

Instead, "Daisy I'd like to compliment you on your work, is that ok?" has an altogether different effect.

5. Put it on the record

Once you've given a compliment (if it's verbal or over a sreen) put it on the record in writing.

There are good reasons for this.

Firstly, we apply a higher level of self-regulation to written (or recorded) work, so your instincts of 'would I feel ok reading that in the news' will be working harder for you.

Secondly and much more importantly there is an afterglow effect from written feedback that verbal feedback doesn't achieve.

I have written more about the afterglow of written feedback here.

Very simply put, if you want your compliments to last, write them down for the recipient.

Safe compliments in the workplace

It's tragic that people have become too scared to say something appreciative to their co-workers for fear of inadvertently causing offence.

Of course, just like any other workplace communication, a compliment should be gender neutral, non-discriminatory, equitable, kind, and avoid judgement.

By following these 5 simple tips to structure compliments you can keep psychological safety at the forefront of your appreciation.


What tips and good practice would you add based upon giving or receiving compliments at work? 
Please leave your suggestions in the comments.


About Pay Compliment

The Pay Compliment platform is widely used to exchange compliments between co-workers as one of 9 different tools for feedback and performance management.

If you would like to learn more about how we help organisations to build high performing cultures based upon empowerment, learning and mastery please get in touch.


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