Have you had one too many awkward conversations that went something like:
You: “I like your… shoes… um… necklace… um… yeah.”
You want to be nice. You want to give a compliment. But you want it to be real!
Say goodbye to awkward, fake compliments forever.
I’ll teach you:
- how to compliment anyone at any time, using the non-personal compliment
- why overcomplimenting leads to social awkwardness
- why people fish for compliments (and what to do if you’re around a compliment fisher)
- 10 other techniques to compliment without being ungenuine
Read on for your ultimate complimentary guide (pun intended).
The Non-Personal Compliment
In almost every interaction, I like to start out nice.
This usually means trying to give someone an authentic compliment.
But sometimes, you don’t know people well enough to give them a compliment. Other times, you sound kind of fake.
A non-genuine compliment is not a compliment at all. When you don’t know someone well, the only way you might be able to give a genuine compliment is to use what I call: The non-personal compliment.
What is a Non-Personal Compliment?
A non-personal compliment is when you compliment something around that person. You can use these if you don’t know someone well enough yet, or you’re trying to avoid awkwardness, but you still want to say something positive.
- “Well, that wine looks great!”
- “Cool Zoom background.”
- “That food looks so yummy.”
- “Cool venue, right?”
- “I’m so happy I joined; this conversation looks like so much fun.”
The key to non-personal compliments is to stick to something neutral, but also try to get the person to say something they agree with.
Non-personal compliments allow you both to agree on something positive, right from the start.
The Adjective Compliment
Never underestimate how a simple compliment can brighten a person’s day. But it’s not just giving out any old compliment—you wouldn’t gift your lover an old, dusty trinket from a drawer, would you?
My go-to technique for rock star compliments is to use unique adjectives.
Why? Because it turns generic compliments into personal ones:
- Instead of “Nice hair!” say: “Your hair looks so silky and shiny!”
- Instead of “You’re good at public speaking!” say: “The way you talk is so engaging! You rock the stage!”
- Instead of “Cute purse!” say: “Your blue purse is so elegant! It suits you.”
I find that adjective compliments work in most scenarios—I was at a dinner party recently and complimented my friend on her new earrings.
She was so happy that the next day she thanked me for giving her that compliment. Apparently, it made her day!
Avoid The “Real” Compliment
Have you ever heard something super cringey like:
- “Is that handbag real Louis Vuitton?”
- “Is your hair real?”
- “Are those lashes real?”
“Real” compliments should be avoided at all costs!
Why? Because 99% of the time, they do more harm than good. If it is actually real, then you’re showcasing your disbelief or doubting them. And if it’s not real, you’re setting them up for embarrassment.
Instead of a “real” compliment, learn how to give authentic, genuine ones. To do that, simply follow the next step:
How to Avoid Giving Fake Compliments
Let’s say you’re the kind of person who compliments everything.
- Someone wear your least favorite team’s jersey? Amazing team!
- Dance partner keep stepping on your foot? You’ve got great dance skills!
- That dusty old lamp sitting in the corner? Really cool vintage gear!
I used to be that person—always giving compliments, hoping people would like me in return. It didn’t feel right and didn’t work.
So how do you really give a genuine compliment? There are 2 factors to a genuine compliment: sporadic and innocent.
Authentic compliments are sporadic because they aren’t planned ahead of time. The best compliments just “pop up” in your head, like if you notice a nice bracelet, an exotic accent, or a favorable trait in someone’s personality.
Second, authentic compliments are innocent because they aren’t trying to gain brownie points or people please. You’ll know a non-innocent compliment if you feel like you just have to praise someone to win their approval or make them like you.
Compliment without expectations.
So the next time you’re going to give a compliment, make a mental check for these 2 factors to prevent giving out a fake one.
Pro Tip: How to Spot False Flattery
Having trouble telling if someone else’s compliment is genuine or not? Look for the telltale signs of lying that indicate a compliment is fake. Some indicators might be touching the neck or mismatched hand gestures.
It’s All in The
OK, so you know how to be a little more genuine. But here’s the key:
It doesn’t matter what you say, but how you say it.
Sounds obvious, right? But picture someone saying the following phrase—first with an excited voice and then with a bored one:
“You look so beautiful.”
Now, if that doesn’t scream “I don’t care!” I don’t know what does.
You see, in reality, you could say anything and make it work. But if you don’t say it right, it won’t matter.
Say it like you mean it.
How to Take a Compliment
Picture this: You’re alone at a networking event, and all of a sudden, a stranger approaches you. “I like your outfit!” she says.
How do you respond?
- “Umm… thanks, I guess.”
- “Oh, this old thing! It’s nothing.”
- “It’s not mine, but thanks.”
No! You just insulted your compliment giver. Taking a compliment gracefully is a compliment to the giver. Try:
- “Thank you!”
- “That’s so kind.”
- “Oh, that’s so nice of you to say.”
Oh yeah… and don’t automatically reply, “You too!” It never sounds real.
Just saying thank you after a compliment is one of the best things you can do.
Saying thank you:
- gives you a confidence boost and lessens imposter syndrome
- genuinely thanks them for giving the compliment
- moves the conversation along without awkwardness
The worst thing you can do is to be self-deprecating. Saying, “I actually don’t like my outfit,” also reduces your confidence and primes the conversation for negativity.
The Ideal Praise-Criticism Ratio
Did you know there’s a perfect ratio of giving compliments and criticisms? Do you think it’s:
- 6 compliments for every 1 criticism
- 2 compliments for every 1 criticism
- 1 compliment for every 3 criticisms
In a study of 60 business leadership groups, researchers analyzed the performance of team members and also looked at how many compliments or criticisms were passed between members.
Researchers found the ideal compliments-to-criticisms ratio was 5.6:1—nearly 6 compliments for every criticism (answer a).
In remote teams and business, compliments are crucial to keep up motivation. You can easily give compliments if someone does well at their job. Are you a complimenter or criticizer? Make sure to stick to the golden ratio of 6:1.
Hook, Line, and Sinker
OK, so giving compliments is good.
But have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and they always seem to be begging for compliments? It’s like they’re a fish always looking for the bait.
People who ask for too many compliments may have underlying reasons:
- They secretly have low confidence and want validation.
- They might put themselves down just for attention.
- They’re actually really beautiful or a great stylist but don’t admit it to draw more attention (remind you of anyone)?
But the problem is…
If you give them the bait, they will only want more.
Receiving compliments actually boosts dopamine in your brain. Studies even show this boost has similar effects to receiving a monetary gift. And the more a person receives compliments, the more they want it!
So to avoid overcomplimenting, try giving the bait just once or twice so they’re satisfied. Give them the benefit of the doubt, because maybe they do deserve a compliment.
But if they keep looking for bait, I wouldn’t advise giving any more. Overcomplimenting can lead to a toxic relationship that may end up bad for both of you.
How to Compliment a Stranger (Without Being Awkward)
Imagine you’re walking down the street and see an absolute eye-catcher. Maybe they look kind. Maybe they’re your future soul mate. Or maybe you happen to run into your favorite Shark Tank investor.
So you want to give a compliment. What do you do? Here’s my easy 3-step approach:
- Make eye contact. Eye contact is crucial to signal you’re approaching and not just some random person appearing out of nowhere.
- Focus on substance, not appearance. Physical compliments can be nice, but can put up a barrier between you if you’re strangers (“What do they want from me?”). Try a non-physical compliment, such as complimenting someone on their hard work.
- Prepare for nothing. Look, compliments are great, but sometimes you might get shrugged off. It’s ok! They might act like it’s no big deal on the outside but be secretly swooning on the inside. Think of it as a good deed—the more compliments you give, the happier the world becomes!
And that’s it! I give out compliments and more in my Kindness Challenge.
Are you ready to take on the challenge? Head on over to our kindness article to learn how to conquer your fears with kindness.
And if you’re struggling to find what to say, here are my favorite compliments for any situation:
10 Best Compliments to Put a Smile on Someone’s Face
- “I love your beautiful smile!”
This one’s simple but effective! A beautiful smile is one of the facial cues that is the most attractive. When you say this, it’s likely they will smile even bigger. It’s a win-win for both of you.
- “You’ve inspired me to [insert amazing thing here].”
Whether it’s cooking, working harder, or even being more positive, this is a great compliment to let someone know you look up to them.
- “You have such a wonderful voice. It’s so pleasant to listen to you!”
This is a great compliment to use if you’re on the phone. I said this once to a random telemarketer, and he profusely thanked me for being the only one to be nice to him the whole day.
- “Your personality is so infectious. It’s always a pleasure to be around you!”
Who doesn’t love to be complimented on their personality? Whether you’re a high extrovert or introvert, low narcissist, or high on the open scale, you can find practically any reason to compliment someone.
- “You’re sweeter than a box of chocolates.”
You don’t have to reserve this one for Valentine’s Day. I love this compliment because adding the chocolate imagery works wonders, and besides—who doesn’t love chocolates?
- “I love your sense of humor!”
What do you call a noodle that’s an impostor? An impasta. Get it? Well, not everyone’s going to appreciate your sense of humor. But the ones that do will love you forever.
- “I love your new haircut!”
This compliment wins brownie points if you really can tell someone got a new haircut.
- “You always set high expectations.”
This is a great compliment to give to those overachievers out there. You’ll motivate them to become their best and be happy for their work. This is great for business situations!
- “You’re more fun than Silly String.”
Adding a metaphor is a great way to compliment—especially if it’s positive.
- “Every day, I learn something new from you.”
This one’s great for close friends and family. Since I’m a lifelong learner, I always love to learn. This compliment means a lot to those who love to teach others!
10 Best Compliments For Men
- “You’re so handsome, confident, and valuable.”
Sometimes, all men want is a little mood boost, even if they don’t show it. This compliment is also a great positive affirmation to say to yourself anytime, anywhere.
- “When you make up your mind about something, nothing stands in your way.”
This is a great compliment for driven and ambitious men (it works great for women, too!). Think: Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, or your local football lineman (literally).
- “Your leg muscles are really defined!”
OK, hear me out on this one. I recently asked my bodybuilding friend what he’d like to be complimented on… and he said the legs. Specifically because most people compliment the arms, abs, etc. but don’t even mention the hard-earned squats. Compliment his glutes and he’ll feel thankful for all those hours of squats he’s put in.
- “You’re really great with kids!”
I find that men who hear this either 1. Have kids themselves, or 2. Are really, really surprised to hear this (in a good way!).
- “Wow, you smell so good!”
I would keep this one for lovers or close friends. But complimenting a man on his smell is subtle and can even lead to a little more spice… if you know what I mean. 😉
- “You are such an incredible father.”
Like mothers, fathers also love to receive compliments for their great parenting skills.
- “I appreciate your hard work.”
This one’s for my hubby. Sometimes we’re so focused grinding on our businesses that it’s hard to relax. Showing some appreciation for his hard work goes a long way.
- “You’re very handsome.”
This is simple, but it works 99% of the time. Men love being complimented on being handsome, and sometimes there’s no need to go overboard with your compliment.
- “You make me feel so safe.”
Sometimes, men really want to feel valued for how much they protect others. They want to be the rock.
8 Best Compliments For Women
- “You have such rock-solid confidence!”
As a woman who has been struggling with confidence for years, I know what it feels like to have absolutely no self-confidence at all. Hearing this is perfect for individuals who lack or are building their self-esteem and is a great way to boost mood.
- “You have the most amazing eyebrows.”
I wouldn’t recommend this for every occasion, but I have to say it is one of my favorite compliments. We work hard on our eyebrows, so if you like them, say something!
- “I love working with you.”
Research has shown that women struggle most with impostor syndrome. Confirming that you like working with someone and enjoy having them on your team is the best compliment you can give.
- “You’re so awesome! It’s like taking a fresh breath of air every time I see you.”
I still remember the time I was told this by my high school crush. If it’s remained in my mind for this many years, you can bet it’ll make a great impression on any woman.
- “I love how well designed your house is! It’s beautiful and feels just right.”
As a woman who loves to decorate her house—with paintings, travel photos, and little milestone markers I’ve collected over the years—having someone appreciate my home is absolutely music to my ears.
- “Your child is so well mannered and respectful!”
As a mother myself, I know every mom loves to hear praise about their child. Especially if that praise has something with raising them. Children are a full-time job themselves, and hearing this compliment will put a smile right on any mother’s face!
- “Your dog is so friendly and amazing!”
No kids? No problem! If she’s a dog lover, this compliment will get her smiling anyway. Dog owners are proud and love their dogs as much as a mother would love her child.
- “You look like the happiest person in the room!”
If you’ve ever been in a Tango or Salsa class, you know this compliment really takes the cake. As a beginner dancer (read: very beginner), it takes a lot of courage to move to the groove. Even if I’m flailing around like a walrus, in the end it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m having fun.
- “You’re absolutely captivating.”
There’s a reason my best-selling book is called Captivate. I love this word because it’s nonboring and memorable. People don’t necessarily remember buzzwords like “nice” or “good.” But they’ll remember “captivate.”
The 3-A-Day Rule
My personal rule for giving out compliments is to give 3 genuine compliments to others every day.
For the past few months, I’ve been on track and feel so much more grateful than ever before. I give compliments to:
- friends on video calls
- strangers on the street
- random people during the Kindness Challenge
- old phone contacts I haven’t chatted with for a while
And the best part?
It only takes 3 minutes of your time.
Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Giving out compliments is free, but to the person receiving them, it can feel like a million bucks.
So here’s my final challenge for you:
Find 3 people you can give a genuine compliment to right now. Brighten their day. Spread the love. Be empathetic.
And most of all, avoid fake compliments!
16 replies on “How to Deal With Fake Compliments (And Give Genuine Ones!)”
I’m so glad you shared this article! I’ve been really trying hard to work on giving compliments to those I love the most AND see the most….my husband and kids.
My poor husband hears the genuine, but same ol’ compliments.
My kids are extra tough to compliment because it is my job to make sure I raise responsible adults that benefit their society and don’t leech off of it. Thus, putting my focus on what they need to work on instead of what they are doing well.
This article has helped reinforce what I know to be true. But knowing and doing are two very different things!
Thank you for the help!!
Omg!! I’m in the same boat! I tend to give comments on what they can work on rather than what they did great. So nice to hear that someone else is going through the same struggle 😅
That was a great article! Giving non-personal compliments is a such a good idea, I’ve never thought about them as compliments but they really are and are also a good ice-breaker. I’m struggling with receiving compliments, but it’s gotten better (if I can fight the first instinct to joke about it or just brush it off). I appreciate that you listed some compliments for men, it’s great inspiration. Keep up the good work!
This was very interesting and informative. I’ve always had a difficult time accepting compliments as it makes me very uncomfortable. I do, however, enjoy giving compliments…go figure. Thank you.
Wow this is such a valuable lesson! I really love reading your “how to’s.” I did not know non-personal compliment can also work wonders if I cannot think of a genuine personal compliment. This tip will help me life-time.
you never disappoint, i had to pause what i was doing to read this . it was worth the time. thanks
Your newsletter always has something I can learn. A tech question fir you. Is there a way to remove the videos before I read it? For me they are annoying and I have to keep adjusting the paragraphs on the screen to hide the videos.
I don’t believe it’s possible to remove the videos from the newsletters as they come included! Unless you find an online tool, possibly. Hope this helps! Rob | Science of People Team
Your messages always interest me – and that’s a genuine, well deserved compliment for you. No fakery from me.
To your continuing success!
I’ve been serving compliments to my co-workers at my new job. To my trainer, my peers, my supervisor, and even staff from other departments.
It is surprising how it has helped with MY confidence, and how I carry myself as I become more familiar with this new environment.
As an introvert, socializing is not my area at all. Your posts, however, make things do easy for me! Thank you so much for your hard work!
Great tips! Very practical, thanks!
Well, when I was nice to the customers while greeting them at the gym I worked, my manager told me that I’m being “over enthusiastic”. She killed it. It was so hurtful. But I’m still nice. Thank you Vanessa, after this article I will give even more compliments.
Thanks for providing the best ways to compliment genuinely. It is really
remarkable to compliment even strangers for making their day. Vanessa your smile is also worth millons dollars.
I have been told a few times of not being good at receiving compliments and that’s true as I almost always feel awkward about it. It definitely isn’t going to be same after this article. Thanks for always boosting my confidence, Vanessa.
Appreciated your hard work, I learned something new with you daily. You polished my mind thank you.
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