It’s complimentary!

I’m not a “New Year’s resolution” sort of person — just like I’m not really a “Christmas gift” sort of person. I tend to fall more along the lines of: Why not now?

Which is to say, if I see something that I think a friend would really enjoy, I buy it then and hand it over shortly thereafter — even if it’s May 12, or October 3, or December 26. Similarly, if I think I should start working on something  — not giving Mr. Brooks advice on how to do things, for a not-so-hypothetical example — I try to do so right away.

Last weekend I took some friends to see “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” at the Mesa Arts Center, and since we picked up one guy in Tempe, for dinner I introduced the group to ToTT’s Asian Diner (and its delicious orange chicken). During the table talk, PNB and I were off to one side while the others were engrossed in another conversation, and I noticed after a while that he had said two complimentary things.

It wasn’t outright flattery;  overt, verging-on-oily “You’re so smart!” comments always make me suspect that the other person is about to ask me for something. Instead, he offered sincere, light compliments. And each — even one as seemingly innocuous as “You have great taste in music” — inspired a frisson of excitement.

And inspired a little introspection, too.

I tend to go into “interview mode” when I talk to people, especially if I don’t know them well. It’s nowhere near the intense police-style grilling like people imagine reporters do, but more a concerted effort to ask open-ended questions, which can’t be answered with short, yes-or-no type answers. It’s the difference between “So, you’re a lawyer?” and “Which part of your specialty do you like best?” When I told my ex-boyfriend about the technique, I told him: “Pretend that you have to write an article about the person after you leave. Find something particularly interesting and let them discuss it.”

But I don’t think I compliment people very often. I think it’s partially due to that in our very Lutheran household, our parents pretty much allotted each child only one acceptable-to-praise-in-public strength (mine since toddlerhood: propensity toward reading and solitude); everything else was traits we should work on or things we had no control over.  (Actual quote: “You used to be such a cute kid — too bad you got the Metzenberg nose.”) Perhaps because of that, I am wary of people who are too complimentary (see “flattery,” above) and am cautious not to appear disingenuous along those same lines.

But I’ve realized that by doing so, I’m keeping other people from experiencing the same little thrill that I got. So I’ve decided to be more conscious about paying compliments.

But only sincere compliments: A few months ago I read this article in Esquire, in which the author embarked upon a similar quest. Most of the article is spent on his rocky early attempts — even before re-reading it, I remembered his anecdote about how badly one attempt to compliment a man in a golf jacket went.  It resonated with me because I had a similarly awful discussion about a scar once. Mr. Brooks brings it up whenever he needs shorthand for “flailing-and-failing interaction.” I want to avoid that at all costs.

The gist of the article is: It took the writer a while to realize that delivering a compliment is “a matter of finding the right moment rather than insisting on one.” He’d ruminate for days for a worthy one, rather than trying to rack up a tally just for quota’s sake.

From now on, I’m going to give people the thoughtful compliments they deserve. I think it’s important to do so. And if when you get one, please accept it graciously. Chances are, it took a lot of work for me to get out.

WHAT SAM WORE: 12-17-09
The sweater: Long-sleeved cotton/cashmere V-neck from J. Crew.
The shirt: Slim-fit cotton dress shirt from Banana Republic.
The pants: Boot-cut corduroys by 7 for All Mankind, from Last Chance.
The shoes: Sneakers by Puma, from Nordstrom.

2 responses to “It’s complimentary!

  1. I love Tom Chiarella’s columns in Esquire. Half the time they’re the thing that sticks with me the most from an issue months after I’ve put it down.

    Which reminds me…I lent Adele my Esquire Augmented Reality issue a month ago. I totally need to swipe that back from her…

  2. Fabulous post with great insight. I might have to try this myself.

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