Keeping it real—with compliments

by Kristin on January 12, 2011

in Love, family & community

Photo by dlisbona

“I love talking to you, because you’re funny and candid. You always tell it like it is—you keep it real.”

A long-distance friend and I were wrapping up a phone conversation, prompted by her need for a sounding board and some advice. I had been so focused on encouraging her—helping her over the particular road block she was up against—that her encouragement of me took my by surprise. I’m pretty sure I even blushed.

As we got off the phone, my first thought was We all need to go out of our way more often to tell people what we appreciate about them.

A closer look at how and why we encourage

This morning, I continued to think about the effect of our exchange, analyzing why it was so uplifting and what exactly made it different from other kind words. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

- My friend, the giver of the compliment, didn’t just tell me that she appreciated me, she told me exactly what it is that she appreciates about me. Specific details matter when we are complimenting and encouraging. She could have just said “Thanks—talking to you was really helpful” or “Your friendship means a lot,” but she went the extra mile to articulate something more meaningful.

- From my perspective, as the recipient of the compliment, I was particularly encouraged because my friend expressed her appreciation of a character trait not everyone appreciates in me: my candidness. Being verbally candid (or shall we say outspoken?) has always been one of those things I love and hate about myself. I speak up when I feel the need, even though societal norms often call for something we’ve defined as “more polite” and “restrained.” I do try to keep it in check and not be hurtful to others, but the reality is, being candid is a part of who I am. I can temper it, but not do away with it. When someone expresses appreciation for that aspect of my personality, it is an affirmation of who I am, at my core.

- And finally, there was something else at the heart of the conversation my friend and I had: We both allowed ourselves to be completely immersed in the conversation, letting go of our own needs along with our self-consciousness. This is key. She didn’t feel guilty about taking up so much of my time; I didn’t feel like a martyr for giving my time. We just put ourselves out there, not worrying about the personal benefits. When we go into an exchange with that kind of freedom, we’re much more likely to come out of it with more strength, having been fed by honesty and truth.

Have you been encouraged by someone in an unexpected way recently? What about that encouragement made it so meaningful? And how can we extend that brand of encouragement to others?

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  • Meredith

    I had a family member once say to me, “gosh, you’re so brutally honest!” At first, I thought she meant it as a criticism, but she explained that she really meant it as a compliment. She actually loved my honesty, because so many other people around her were never as honest as she needed them to be.

    It’s always fascinating to me to get a glimpse into how other people see us. Often, we don’t see what they see. And if we do, we think of certain traits as “bad” parts of our personalities, when in reality, other people think those things are the “good” parts. It almost seems strange that we rarely think to ask someone else what they mean when they say they like us.

  • ThatGuyKC

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Words of encouragement can have such a major impact. Especially when the appreciation is specific.

    I know that when my wife takes a moment to pause and thank me for something (trivial or tremendous) it is affirming and brightens my day.

  • David

    It’s always a wonderful feeling when someone makes us feel appreciated, especially when it happens completely unexpectedly.

    We are often too quick to complain and to criticise- as soon as someone causes us pain or annoyance. It would be better to pause before we speak badly, but we should try to be quick to thank and show our appreciation, at every opportunity.

  • Katie Z.

    Phil Amerson – president of Garrett Evangelical said on Monday that “encouragement is like verbal sunshine.” On these dark winter days, we really remember how important sunshine is. And when we go for a while without hearing words of praise, we are left feeling in the dark and unappreciated.

    The specific details of compliments that you lift up is such an important reminder!

  • Kristin T.

    Meredith, yeah, there’s something about the word “brutally” that makes you think it’s not a good thing, right? :) But you’re right—we shouldn’t be so quick to think we have ourselves figured out. As you said, “…we think of certain traits as ‘bad’ parts of our personalities, when in reality, other people think those things are the ‘good’ parts.” Maybe the jury is forever out?

    ThatGuyKC, have you read the Love Languages book? The writing style might drive you nuts, but my husband and I have found the concepts so enlightening. My primary love language (the act that makes me feel most loved and appreciated) is “quality time,” while my husband’s is “words of affirmation.” In the three years we’ve been married, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of affirmation. It’s been very enlightening.

    David, yes! The unexpected nature of encouragement can be a wonderful bonus. As soon as I recognize how much I’ve been impacted by being on the receiving end, it inspires me to give encouragement and affirmation more freely. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

    Katie Z., “verbal sunshine”—I love that! And when it comes to the dark days that individuals face, we often are unaware of what they’re going through. Even more reason to share that verbal sunshine as liberally as we can. It could end up meaning so much more than we know.

  • Matthew

    I recently accepted a job offer. The response of my friends was overwhelming at first. Over the last 7 months, I’d come to take for granted the long hours of internet job hunting, filling out unemployment stubs reminding me of the thankful income I was given (while also reminding me it was quickly disappearing). It was just a “given” But there they were, my friends celebrating with me–celebrating me! While none of my friends chose to compliment me specifically, it was the *celebration* that warmed my heart. They were thankful on my behalf and, went a long way toward encouraging my success. For that, I’m grateful.

  • The Modern Gal

    Those kinds of conversations are sometimes rare but are so wonderful when you find yourself in one. I’m lucky to have a few good friends who I have those kind of conversations with. I think it’s important to let go of your own fear of being judged while making sure the person you’re talking with feels as comfortable speaking their own mind.