Genuine (Issue 604)

In which we discuss the gentle art of the compliment.

Not so much a story this week. An opinion, from a workshop I helped with. To set the stage, there were 14 people in the workshop and they were discussing networking, starting conversations with strangers.

(Participant hand raised):  “I’ve heard compliments are good ways to break the ice with people. But I’ve heard they have to be genuine and sincere to be effective. Do you agree?”

The course leader, a charming and extraordinarily positive human, smiled, “Oh, YES, compliments are a WONDERFUL way to break the ice and, YES, they HAVE to be genuine….”

Which is pretty good advice but I broke with reality.

I thought, “No…. they don’t have to be GENUINE.  What is genuine, anyway? Who cares about GENUINE? The compliments have to be INTERESTED… like, “I noticed…” or… at least… they have to be not sarcastic.”

Let’s take a… I don’t know…. a scarf that a colleague is wearing.  We’re at a meeting. She’s in a black sweater, black wool slacks, and black shoes. Her wool scarf, worn high around her neck, is bright freaking-me-out-fuschia, a  vivid pinkish purple color.

She could have worn a LOT of different scarves with her basic black.  She chose THIS one. For a reason, right?  We don’t know the reason, and I’m guessing, at some level, she wanted to make a statement.  Right, in nature, that’s what bright colors are about?

Let’s say I think she looks fabulous and others think the scarf is an abomination.

So, I said to her, during a moment in the workshop, “That is a tremendous scarf!”

She said, “Thank you!” and smiled.  OK, I did well, right?  I broke the ice and earned the right to maybe ask another question or comment.  But, remember, I thought she looked great!  The compliment was genuine … because of something I experienced.

Now, let’s say that one of the “scarf is abomination” people were able to utter the same words with enthusiasm and not a drip of sarcasm.

“That is a tremendous scarf!”

They hate the scarf but, I bet… she would still smile and say, “Thank you!” and the ice would be broken, just as it was when I said, “That is a tremendous scarf.”  But, according to prevailing wisdom, that would NOT be a genuine compliment because the person saying the compliment didn’t believe it – they hate the scarf!

Genuine doesn’t matter.  Either way, the outcome is still the same. Ice broken. Right?

OK, here’s the opinion. When we want compliment people to break the ice, let’s  pick points that are obviously important to them. THAT’S what makes them genuine – the compliments are important to them….And it’s with THEM that we are seeking to break the ice. Doesn’t matter how WE feel or what OUR opinion is. It matters how THEY feel and respond.

Just a thought.

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