Margi’s Memo 
From: Margi–attorney, professor, mom, and pastor’s wife
To: The gals in our church
Re: The Art of the Compliment

The comment: “Wow, you have full lips. Because most old people have thin lips.”

The speaker of the comment: a 15 or 16 year old young lady

The recipient of the comment: me

My response: dumbstruck

Okay, I may be in the forties but isn’t forty the new twenty or thirty or something like that? I know that this young lady probably meant her comment as a compliment. The only problem is that it came out as a mixed compliment. Instead of feeling complimented about my lips, I felt depressed about my “old” age. So, I went and ate a whole big piece of chocolate cake. Then, not only did I feel old, I felt fat.

Giving compliments is not as simple as one initially thinks.

For example. One time a friend of mine was over at the house. We had just finished having it built. We were proud of all that went into it, including our own design and labor. The result, we thought, was a beautiful home that anyone would think was just beautiful. My friend came over to visit and see the house. After taking a tour of the house we ended up in the kitchen where I proudly showed her the granite countertops and Shaker cabinets.

My friend made some comment like, “oh this is nice,” then proceeded to ask, “Do you know so and so?” “No,” I said. “Oh,” she replied. “You have to see their house. Their house is goregous!”

I was dumbstruck. What was I supposed to say? Did that mean my house wasn’t gorgeous? I just didn’t know. Why would you talk about how beautiful someone else’s house is when you are with a new home owner who wants to show off their house? Why not just compliment my home and not compare it to anyone else’s?

Another example. I was speaking with a woman whose children go to the same school as our kids. We were discussing our kids and the grades they would be in next year etc. We started talking about the individual children and the topic turned to Josie.

We talked about her for a few minutes and then this person said, “You know so-and-so (naming a famiily with whom we are friends). “Yes,” I replied. “Their daughter is goregous!” she exclaimed.

Again. Dumbstruck. What was I to make of that? She didn’t compliment my daughter. Why would she bring up someone else’s daughter in that conversation and beam about how beautiful she thought she is? All she succeeded in doing was making me feel like she thought my daughter was not gorgeous. Did she mean that? I don’t know. But had she stopped to think about it she might have realized that unintentionally that is what she was doing.

All of us have at one time or another given a conditional compliment or a compliment that could be interpreted perhaps differently than we meant it. Or, perhaps we were guilty of diminishing the joy of someone because we had to interject something about ourselves instead of staying with the conversation before us. Maybe we have even failed to offer a compliment to someone when it would have been such a nice, thoughtful thing to do.

Here’s a challenge. This next week try to compliment people around you with sincere, unconditional, non-comparative compliments.

  • You see someone’s hair that looks nice? Tell them.
  • You liked that dinner they made you? Make sure they know how much.
  • You think that person looks like they have lost weight? Let them know how great they look.
  • Someone said something really insightful and wise? Okay, tell them you thought so.

Take the focus off you and say something kind a meaningful to someone else. It just might make their day or their week.

Also try to stay with the moment. If someone is telling you about something their kids did that was great, or showing you something their husband made for them, or relating some exciting story about something that happened to them – STAY WITH THEM.

At that moment it is about them, not you or yours or anyone else’s. Be excited with them. Don’t bring up something peripheral to what they are talking about. Make that moment their moment. Rejoice in others. This is not the time to compare, justify, one-up them or get some attention for yourself. Not everything is about you.


Finally, think about what you are saying before you say it. There’s a concept! Is this a time to compliment them or theirs? Then do so. Don’t let your own pride or inadequacy stand in the way of elevating or encouraging someone. Don’t bring up other people or their things in comparison. Be sensitive. No one wants to hear that someone else is prettier or smarter or more successful or better than they are or someone they love.

Remember the adage, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” Sound advice.

Compliment those around you. You might me surprised how you can make a difference to someone. Watch how their eyes light up and that smile stretches across their face.

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