What makes a good compliment?

We all like to receive compliments. Most of us don’t get enough of them. A good compliment lifts our spirits and motivates our work. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

But what makes a good compliment?

What makes a good compliment?

What used to make a good compliment for me has changed over the years. When I was in high-school I used big words and carried around science textbooks, whether I needed them or not, just to make people think I was smart. I now know that I was operating from a fixed mindset and was fishing for assurances from others to prop up a faulty identity. Hearing “You’re smart” somehow reassured me that I had something to offer. I longed to hear those words. I could live for, say, two hours before I sought them out again. “Your smart” never came frequently enough.

I heard those words again from someone just last week and I noticed something inside me changed. It wasn’t a good compliment anymore.

Hearing that I’m smart no longer lift my spirits. Those words don’t motivate me to do more or dare more. They just land there, appreciated, but not needed.

A good compliment for me now is centered around my mission: How well do I inspire others to pursue their extraordinary and powerful mission? I’d rather be inspiring than smart.

I suspect that all of us are more receptive to compliments more directly related to our purpose. Perhaps the longing we have for a good compliment is really a desire for someone to truly notice how we express our extraordinary mission. And maybe we’re looking for clues as to what that is.

If that’s true, then pay attention to the next time you receive a good compliment—one that lifts your spirits and motivates you. It may be a pointer to that extraordinary mission within you.

What makes a good compliment for you? Has it changed over time?

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2 thoughts on “What makes a good compliment?

  1. Leary, you are so right. I really do not care at all what someone thinks of me. But when someone says “thank you for helping me, or loving me, or pointing me back to Christ,” that is what lifts my spirits more than anything.

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