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How to Compliment Strangers

by Parker Janney

Most people feel good when they receive a compliment. Learning how to compliment strangers is especially important if you are looking to expand your social network, as it can open up doors to interesting new friendships.

Make eye contact. When you're giving someone a compliment, look that person in the eye and mean it. Eye contact doesn't guarantee that you are telling the truth, but looking away hints at deception.

Expect nothing in return. A genuine compliment should be given for the sake of giving and not because you secretly want to be complimented in return. Don't compliment the antiques store clerk because you're hoping to get a sweet deal on a set of floor lamps. Compliments that are cashed in like pennies in a piggy bank are empty of value.

Don't focus just on the physical. While it's easiest to observe a person's appearance, be it a hairstyle, her clothes or her eyes, complimenting someone's character will leave a lasting impression. Examples include, "I saw how kind you were to that homeless man. That was really something" or "You are wonderful at your job. Your customer service really made my day."

Practice. Complimenting strangers can be a challenge for some people. Set a goal of complimenting a certain number of people every day (how about starting with three?). If the thought intimidates you, take some of the pressure off by starting with customer service reps on the phone. Examples: "You have such a cheerful voice! I bet you make a lot of sales," "You've really made me feel heard and understood. Thank you," or "I appreciate the job you are doing. I bet you don't get told that enough."

Be genuine. While you may have a quota to reach, you always want to be sure your compliments are coming from a place of authenticity. Don't tell her you love her shoes if they look like something your Aunt Mildred wore at her funeral. In other words, don't be insincere. An insincere compliment can do more harm than good because the person may be left wondering if you were taking pity on her.

Ask yourself, is this compliment actually offensive? Without being aware of it, a person can give a compliment that is perceived as offensive by someone else. A good example of this is a phenomenon known as microaggression, where someone subtly -- and often unintentionally -- insults a person who is a minority. An example is to say, to an Asian woman, "Wow, your English is really good!" or "You have such a cute accent." While you may have meant no harm and were genuinely hoping to make the person feel good or bridge some sort of cultural gap, what the sales rep might have heard was, "You're a foreigner in this country."

Prepare for rejection. While you may feel perfectly confident about complimenting a perfect stranger, it remains true that many people are very uncomfortable receiving a compliment. While common courtesy would dictate a response of gratitude, many people will artfully deflect compliments by ignoring them, minimizing them or being suspicious about the giver's motives. If you tell a woman you like her blouse, she may say, "This old thing? It reminds me of my grandmother." This is her way of avoiding the discomfort of really being seen and appreciated. Or, your compliment could be misinterpreted as a veil for flirtation or even as a pickup line. Worry less about people's reactions and receptivity, and focus on delivering the truth of your heart.

About the Author

Parker Janney is a web developer and writer based in Philadelphia. With a Master of Arts in international politics, she has been ghostwriting for several underground publications since the late 2000s, with works featured in "Virtuoso," the "Philadelphia Anthropology Journal" and "Clutter" magazine.

Photo Credits

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