When was the last time you received a compliment? Do you remember the situation when you did something well and someone told you, “You did that very well!” What did it feel like? How did the conversation continue? Please take a moment, to focus on that moment.
Or maybe you yourself gave a compliment to someone recently. What was the story behind it? Can you recall what words you used?
Until I heard the considerations of a certain Ken Gergen, I thought a compliment was a good thing in itself. Until then I wasn’t aware of possible ‘negative’ effects of giving compliments… Excuse me?
Gergen suggests that you have to do something with your words; you have to take them somewhere. This is what Appreciative Inquiry is aiming for as well: making conversations and relationships generative; we want to keep developing them. Relationships should be alive and growing. It’s like a dance.
What worries Ken Gergen is that if you dig deeper, appreciation can unconsciously turn into judgment. I beg your pardon?
Imagine yourself saying the sentence “Hey, you did a very good job.” It might be meant appreciatively – no problem with your intentions – but it positions you above the other because apparently, you are able to judge how good the other person functions. You might even have tapped on the other person’s shoulder, and in this line of thinking you could see this as a kind of hammering the other through the floor, widening the gap between the two of you…
Okay, this idea might seem a little overdone. But on the other hand; what would you say when somebody tells you “Good job!”? You might answer, “Thank you” (with a blush), “It was nothing” (which of course is not true) or you remain silent. And here, mister Gergen proves to be correct. The compliment, meant so positively, stops the conversation instead of extending it.
We’re addressing the art of conversation; finding the words that really do what you want them to do to the other (hopefully appreciating, empowering, learning, reassuring, comforting, loving…). Are you somewhat confused? Don’t be. Understand that it’s okay if compliments bring you further make you more aware of what words can do. SO please, keep on giving compliments.
How do you improve the phrase “Very well done!” You want your compliment to be ‘generative’? If that is your sincere intention, then you will find the right words. For now, please accept a small hint. Tell the other person how grateful you are, and ask how he or she managed to do the job.
Wrapping a compliment in a question will bring the conversation further. Will you give it a try?
You’ve just read one of the 110 chapters of my book Appreciative Inquiries of the 3.0 Kind. Find out more (and a special pre-ordering offer) on www.appreciativeinquiries.eu.