How to Give a Killer Compliment

Giving good compliments is a vastly underrated superpower.

Talk to someone calculating, cunning, and cold, and they’ll tell you all about the manipulative powers of compliments – how you can use them to get someone in your sway.

That may be true, but that’s not what I mean when I call compliments a superpower. What I mean is that you have the power to turn someone’s day around. Maybe even to turn their life around.

Here’s how I know that’s true: I can track the evolution of my self-esteem by what compliments I received and when. The first boy to call me “pretty” when I was 12. The older man who told me I had a cute philtrum at 14. The freshman-year girlfriend who called one of my Facebook selfies “scintillating.” The sophomore-year FWB who raved about how soft my labia felt in her mouth. The senior-year boyfriend who called my dorky honesty “sexy.” The college boyfriend who went on and on (and on and on!) about my soft skin, handjob skillz, and on-point winged eyeliner.

(Ooooof. I am glowing with happiness just from writing those out! See what I mean about the power of compliments?)

Self-love gurus will tell you self-acceptance comes from within, and I think that’s true – there were times when I just wasn’t in the right headspace to hear, accept, and digest compliments. But I think a well-timed compliment, given with love and by the right person, can give you the shove you need on your journey toward self-love. That’s definitely how it worked for me.

Here are some tips on how to give a compliment that can literally change someone’s life…

Be genuine.

This should go without saying, and yet, it’s important enough that I have to say it. If you compliment someone, make sure you mean it! I’m sure you can find something about practically anyone that you like enough to compliment them on, even if it’s just their shoes or the way they pronounce a certain word.

Pay attention to what they put effort into.

I promise you, you will absolutely make someone’s day if you notice something about them that they evidently care about and then compliment them on it.

It might be physical: their perfectly-blended eyeshadow, color-coordinated outfit, or spiffy new haircut. It might be an aspect of their personality: their bravery, intelligence, humor. It might be something they do particularly well: playing guitar, baking brownies, or maintaining a flawlessly curated Pinterest page.

Notice this stuff. Say something about it. Let them see that their efforts have been appreciated.

Compliment what’s rarely complimented.

I learned this trick because I grew up smart but plain-looking, and I had a friend who was beautiful but only got average grades. She was constantly told how pretty she was, and it eventually made her doubt herself in other areas (intelligence, humor, etc). By contrast, I was frequently praised for being clever, which made me wonder if I was unimaginably hideous. What other explanation could there be?

While making sure to remain genuine, look for something that your complimentee probably doesn’t get praised for very often. Something other people tend to gloss over, ignore, or just don’t see.

Use unusual words.

A few reasons for this:

1. Your compliment will seem more genuine, intentional, and thought-out if your language isn’t generic. It shows that you had to actually scan your brain and select the best word from a number of different possibilities, instead of reaching for what came easiest.

2. Weird and wacky language is more memorable. You want your complimentee to remember your comment for days, weeks, months, or even years, instead of just forgetting it the moment they say “Thank you.” So choose words that will stick in their head (in a good way!).

3. The way our brains work, we actually absorb information better if it’s given to us in a way that requires a little mental effort. Words like “beautiful” and “amazing” are thrown out so often that we barely hear them or process them. A rarer word requires additional processing and is therefore likelier to sink in.

Instead of “beautiful,” try “radiant,” “dazzling,” or “foxy.”

Instead of “great” (as in, great shoes, great hair, great outfit!), try “exquisite,” “groovy,” or “magnificent.”

Instead of “sexy” or “hot,” try “ravishing,” “captivating,” or “delectable”!

And don’t forget to throw some strange adverbs in there. “Very,” “incredibly” and “totally” can be replaced with words like “astonishingly,” “strikingly” and “exceptionally”! (If this kind of language feels too formal/fancy for you, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of “hella” as a pre-compliment adverb.)

Let go of expectations.

It’s suuuuper annoying when someone compliments you and then just stares at you, like they want you to… what? Compliment them back? Deny the truth of what they said? Confess your love and elope with them to Paris?

Please don’t ever make someone feel like they owe you something in exchange for your compliment. A “thank you” is pretty much all you’re owed – maybe not even that. (Some people have been socialized in such a way that it’s hard for them to say “thank you” when they’re complimented, so they might deny what you’ve said. Please don’t argue with them too much. There are social and psychological reasons why they do this – and your compliment likely lifted their mood even if they don’t act like it.)

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?