by S. Max Brown and Tanveer Naseer | March 01, 2011

A real compliment cannot be bought or sold. A real compliment is generated from recognizing a special gift or trait in another and is conveyed with great care. We all know an artificial compliment when we’re given one. But when we receive a real compliment, we hold it in our hearts forever. In business, meaningful compliments that are given by managers to employees have the potential of reinforcing relationships, which lead to higher loyalty, productivity, initiative, and retention.

March 1 is World Compliment Day. The purpose of this holiday, which began in the Netherlands, is to show that we must never lose sight of how the act of giving compliment is a selfless act. For leaders, the sole objective of a compliment is to communicate the appreciation for an employee’s efforts and contributions. Knowing the power and intensity that real compliments carry, leaders need to encourage every team member to give them. The benefit of such actions is not only how they foster recognition of the contributions of others, but also how they help to shape our perspectives of those we work and collaborate with on a regular basis.

We all remember when we received our first compliments. For most of us, it was in elementary school, getting an assignment back with an added note from the teacher saying how much she liked the work. We likely received our first peer-to-peer compliments during recess, when we scored a soccer goal or hit a home run.

The compliments we carry with us are the ones that make us feel good about ourselves and our abilities. They are sources of encouragement, pushing us to persevere, and they then become the fuel of our aspirations, pushing us higher. For these reasons, leaders must consider compliment-giving as an essential part of their daily communication tools.

As a teacher in Shanghai, Sally always worked to help her students realize their potential. Her methods varied with each child, and one day she announced that everyone in her third-grade class would be taking turns going around the room to give compliments to classmates.

She modeled the behavior for the children to follow by going around the room and citing specific ways each individual had contributed during the year. She then went on to suggest professions each student may take up later in life based on their strengths. The class loved it! They were delighted to hear how Peter may become a great writer, and how Helen may grow up to be a mathematician. The class joined in, naming possibilities for each classmate that day. Just the act of complimenting each other made the students more aware of each other's gifts.

Unfortunately, as adults, our acts of compliment-giving can become murky, at times driven by self-serving pursuits. The act of recognizing the accomplishments or efforts of others is examined less from the perspective of how it impacts the recipient and more on how it makes the giver look.

In his book Thanks, Robert Emmons wrote: "Gratitude is much more than mere politeness or a superficial feeling. Recognition is the quality that permits gratitude to be transformational. To recognize is to cognize, or think, differently about something from the way we have thought about it before."

Giving compliments to others provides us with opportunities to see them in a new light. The act of giving someone a compliment actually helps to reframe the relationship not only for the giver of the compliment, but for all those who hear it, as well. While not everything needs to be publicized, positive recognition and compliments can also have a very positive impact on anyone else who hears it, as well.

Giving a compliment is an act of civility, a sign of respect, and enlarges our own capacity to feel appreciation and gratitude. Real compliments can be the seeds of trust that grow relationships based on mutual respect.

Below are the top 10 ways compliments lift up more than your spirits.

1. Real compliments come from walking the talk.
2. Real compliments make a real bottom-line difference and begin with the people closest to us.
3. Real compliments aren’t gimmicks of frequency or feigned approval; they are human signs of appreciation for others.
4. Real compliments allow us to let go of our own egos and truly appreciate the gifts of those around us.
5. Real compliments help more and judge less.
6. Real compliments are not generated to give us a competitive advantage; they’re generated to raise advantages for others.
7. Real compliments are the currency of deeper meaning that motivates and retains.
8. Real compliments are the inspiration that innovates and engages the talent of your teams.
9. Real compliments are never hijacked by ego or generated by fear.
10. Real compliments are a leader’s building stones for raising strong teams.

S. Max Brown is vice president of organizational learning for the Recognition Management Institute, a division of Rideau Inc. He has made nearly 1,000 presentations to major corporations in locations all around the world, speaking on leadership and employee motivation. He has a certificate in leadership coaching from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in organizational learning from George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him directly at [email protected]


Tanveer Naseer is a business coach who works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop new strategies for growth and development. Thanks to his diverse experiences working in the scientific and business worlds, he has developed a keen understanding of leadership and workplace practices and takes novel approaches to new challenges or situations. You can read more of his writings on leadership and workplace interaction on his award-winning blog at