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Giving and Accepting Compliments

01/14/2013 11:06 pm ET | Updated Mar 16, 2013

Mark Twain once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." Me too! When someone pays me a compliment, it's always so unexpected that it puts a bounce in my step. And although I am no Dr. Drew, I know that when we're nice to others, they're usually nice back. When we pay a compliment to someone, we feel better about ourselves by making another person feel better about him- or herself! And when we accept a compliment gracefully, it works the same way. Here are some tips on both giving and receiving compliments.

How to Give a Compliment
Giving a compliment is much easier than receiving one. A good rule is to simply tell another person whenever something complimentary about that person pops into your head. But there are also compliments that express something you've always thought about a person but have never put into words for some reason. (Sometimes we think the other person just knows how we feel or what we think, but of course putting it into words is the important thing.)

• The first rule about giving a compliment is that whatever you say should be honest and sincere.

• A woman-to-woman compliment is much simpler than when a woman compliments a man or vice versa. Most women are thrilled with a compliment from another woman, even if it's someone they don't know. Women who know each other, of course, can be more personal than if both are strangers. But when a woman compliments a man, it can be perceived as flirting. If a woman doesn't want this to happen, she should take care to be impersonal, as in "That's a beautiful shirt," rather than "That shirt makes you look so handsome!" The situation is even trickier when a man compliments a woman. In our litigious society, I know more than a few men who worry about saying a woman looks attractive for fear of being accused of sexual harassment. So in this case, the words should be thoughtfully chosen. Even "Nice blouse!" can be taken to refer to what's under the blouse instead of the blouse itself. In fact, it may be better for men not to compliment women at all unless they are close friends, and even then to make it clear that the remark is not a sexual advance. This is especially true when the man is more powerful than the woman, as in the case of an executive and his administrative assistant.

• How you give a compliment is almost as important as what you say. Eye contact is key when giving a compliment. Without eye contact, you might as well pay the compliment via Facebook. It's all about face-to-face contact. Looking the other person in the eyes will speak volumes about your sincerity.


Receiving a Compliment

Receiving a compliment is difficult for many. Often our first reaction is to try and deflect attention by demurring or putting ourselves down. But this is not a graceful response, as it can make the compliment-giver feel unappreciated or even dismissed.

• You need only two words: thank you, with a smile, of course. But you could also follow it up with a small phrase such as, How nice of you, or What a nice thing to say. That in turn will make the compliment-giver pleased.

• As when giving a compliment, make sure you look the compliment-giver in the eyes when you thank him or her. No blushing or turning aside; eye contact means your thank-you is genuine.

One of my favorite quotes, from Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, addresses the issue of how to appreciate ourselves and others: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be? . . . We are all meant to shine, as children do. . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Appreciating ourselves enough to accept compliments gracefully is the other side of appreciating others enough to compliment them. Give someone a sincere compliment today, and the next time you are complimented, accept it with grace and pleasure.

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.

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