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The power of a compliment

The Surprising Power of a Compliment

Giving someone a compliment is like giving them cash

There was a study released a few years ago that graphically illustrates the power of a compliment.  It turns out that if someone gives you a compliment, it activates the same parts of the brain as if they had given you cash.


Another study on the same topic determined that there is virtually no threshold at which we begin to stop enjoying legitimate compliments.

It is one of the principles we examine in our customer service training programs, because the implications are huge when it comes to customer service, and creating outstanding customer experiences.  As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did.  But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The Canadian part of my brain was skeptical

Now, I’m Canadian, but I spent most of my youth in Texas, which has resulted in a bit of a split personality.  The undemonstrative, somewhat boring, Canadian part of my brain struggles a bit with this concept of giving compliments.  Fortunately, the Texas part of my brain didn’t permit me to simply discount the idea.  The reality of these studies hit home to me a few years ago when I had back-to-back speaking engagements, one in Canada, and one in the Southern U.S..

The topic was the same for both – on creating internal and external WOW customer experiences.  The group sizes were both hovered around the 400 mark and, and both sessions went very well.  At the end of the Canadian session, the organizer came up to me and said, “That was really great Shaun.  It was exactly what we were hoping for.”  It was nice to hear, and I was happy that I had earned my pay for the day.

At the end of the Southern US session, however, the organizer was bubbling over with enthusiasm.  “That was fantastic Shaun!” she said.  “You have no idea how much I appreciate you coming out here.  This was a message that everyone needs to hear!”  She then continued for another full minute telling me how very wonderful I was.  Needless to say, I was thrilled.

The difference was incredible

When I got back to my hotel room, I realized that, while I was feeling very good about myself, I was also feeling tremendously positively toward the individual who had said all of those nice things.  Not only would she always be at the top of my list if I had a scheduling conflict, but there is no way on earth that I would ever want to let her down.  Since that time I have been more and more aware of how people respond when they are praised, or recognized for their strengths, skills and accomplishments.

Try it

Don’t take my word for this – try it for yourself.  Find a couple of people today and make a point to say something positive about them and watch how they respond.  You don’t have to be over the top (although apparently that won’t work against you).  Just find a legitimate strength that person has and acknowledge it, e.g.:

  • “You’re the most organized person I know. 
  • I can’t believe how you can keep track of all these projects at the same time,” or
  • “You’re amazing at handling those difficult customers.”

Seriously – try this.  If you’re uncomfortable with the idea, the Canadian part of my brain understands completely.  But it’s important to recognize that, while you might be uncomfortable giving praise, the other person won’t be uncomfortable receiving it.  As long as the compliment is genuine, you have my word at you will see a positive response. I get to meet thousands of people every year.  But not once, in my entire career, have I had even one person say to me, “I hate that person, he’s always saying such wonderful things about me.”

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