1."Pssst... that mean woman from Sales who keeps gunning for your job really, really liked your Google Doc."
Telling a friend that people have talked positively about her without her knowing always produces an unexpected thrill. But telling her that people who seem not to admire her so much, in fact, do admire her -- in some small, secret way -- makes her feel as if she's done such an amazing job that she's somehow wiped out jealousy and pettiness.
2. "If we were in 'The Hunger Games,' could I be on your team?"
You can also offer to carry the arrows. All the really brilliant, creative, athletically superior, courageous people still need somebody to carry their arrows.
3. "Yes, I've got a lot going on, but I'm never too busy for you."
Everybody's had that conversation, the one during which the person they've called for advice or plain old help makes a lot of thumping, bumping noises that reveal she's tossing in a load of laundry while listening on the phone. Okay... so all of our schedules are packed. But telling somebody that you're turning off the laptop (accompanied by unmistakable shutdown sounds) lets her know that she's got access to the one thing you too frequently deny even yourself: unfettered time.
4. "Can I have that recipe?"
This one's most effective in response to dishes that the preparer took a risk on or worried about being "too weird" for a potluck. Like Wasabi Deviled Eggs (yum). Or anything involving quinoa or Fritos.
5. "I was just thinking about you."
When you really look at it, a person's brain is the freest space anybody has on the planet. No one else sees what you're doing in there but you. You could think about Twinkies. You could think about Lady Gaga. You could think about your own darn self and whether or not you're going to get that elliptical trainer. But no, you thought about a person... a person, say, named Pamela. She has made the guest list of your conscious thoughts, bumping out Ryan Gosling and the hot preppy guy with the illegally cute black lab down the street. Since she also has a brain, she understands the implication of this: She is so fascinating, so endearing, that she deserves daily contemplation.
6. "I just love that you have a housekeeper come every day."
Say this only to people who do not have a housekeeper come every day, which will elate those wonderful neat freaks who might otherwise wander through life mistakenly believing that their bathroom grout looks just like everybody else's -- despite all the late-night Tilex sessions.
7. "Smart people are great to be around. And so are patient people. But you manage to be smart and patient at the same time, which is such an amazing, rare combination."
This idea takes too long to say (three sentences!) and a fair degree of thought (you can replace "smart" and "patient" with any two adjectives you like), but it really expresses something that's so specific to a particular person that likely the receiver will never have heard it before. Think of it as a haute couture compliment.
8. "When I grow up, I want to be you."
This works well with anyone who is not older than you: best friends, co-workers, small children who have just handed you, apropos of nothing, a chocolate gold coin.
9. "You are so wearing that dress."
We usually bring up a friend's pink cashmere hat or her dangly (but not too dangly) earrings… but what we're really saying is that that we want that particular accessory ourselves. We might admire a friend's eyes or nose, but we're really praising their luck in the genetic lottery. When you tell someone she is so wearing that dress, you're admiring her attitude, her being, letting her know that she has stridden into the room with her looks and outfit and shiny self -- and everybody is watching to see what she will do.
10. "I would never, ever plan my child's birthday without you."
Swap "child's birthday party" for "wedding" or "office dinner." In any of these cases, you're telling that individual that they're the only one who knows how to handle a critical, crucial event. In other words, they are what most all of us want to be for somebody, just once in our lives: indispensable.
11. "I can tell by the way your partner scrambles eggs that he's crazy about you."
We all love being loved. But mentioning that your sister or aunt or best pal is being loved so extravagantly that innocent bystanders like yourself can't help but notice -- say, how her partner pesters her about how much salt to add to the eggs or how low he should set the flame, as well as posing all manner of silly, dopey questions, clearly asked just to hear the sound of her voice -- will make her feel so pleased about her life choices she may even eat the eggs (a dish only you know she detests).
12. "To me, you'll always be the girl with the Yugo."
Look, there is somebody out there you have known a long time. Maybe she is a now a huge success, with her own design company, making zillions of dollars. Or maybe she is in a very bad stretch: She lost her job, left her husband and can't even find an apartment she can afford. Either way, telling her that, to you, she will always be as she was at 21, when she showed up at your very worst moment -- the day you realized you had no money to rent a car and were thousands of miles away from any kind of family -- and handed you the keys to her beat-up, exhaust-spewing Yugo so that you could move your meager possessions out of the college dorm, will let her know that sometimes, one small of act of casual, freely given grace can define a life.
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