This has gotten much tougher over the years. Let me give you an example. A friend of mine works for a large medical device company. He has worked there for a number of years, he is a well regarded engineer and has a spotless employment record. Not too long ago he was suspended for complimenting a female co-worker on her appearance; specifically how she looked in a new sweater she was wearing.
The woman he complemented seemed to appreciate the compliment. His problem started when a person who was not even a part of the conversation overheard the compliment and was offended by it. They thought it was inappropriate and offensive that he was commenting on another employees appearance.
They thought it was so inappropriate that they complained to the HR department. After a short “investigation” my friend was suspended. That might cause a person to swear off giving compliments entirely.
Did I mention that the co-worker my friend complimented was also his sister? Did I mention that he had given her the sweater for her birthday a few days before?
Even though situations like that might cause some people to completely stop the practice of giving compliments I still recommend giving them.
But give real compliments.
A real compliment has two parts.
Part one is the compliment itself. “I appreciate the extra effort you put in to help that customer work through their technical issues.”
Part two is the evidence that supports the compliment. “The reason I say that is I watched your interaction with the customer. Many people would have become frustrated with and dismissive of the customer. You kept your cool and turned a negative customer experience into a positive one.”
Have you ever received a compliment that caused you to wonder about the motives of the person giving you the compliment? It’s likely that they didn’t provide evidence to support the compliment. That evidence leaves no doubt as to the sincerity of the compliment.
Don’t give half a compliment. Always attach supporting evidence so no one has to wonder about your motives. If you can’t think of any evidence to support the compliment then ask yourself if the compliment is really worth giving. I’d suggest that it’s not.
In the politically correct world in which we now live I’d also suggest keeping your compliments focused on performance and abilities. It’s not “safe” to comment on things like appearance anymore and the reality is that in many cases it probably always was inappropriate.
But real compliments can change a person’s day. Maybe even their life. So look for real reasons to compliment others. As Dale Carnegie said, be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”