Compliments: Are They Appropriate at Work?

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Have you ever given a sincere compliment and received a cringed look of disbelief in response? I know that I have received that look as well as given that look of skepticism on occasion. Taking compliments gracefully is not an easy thing to do—especially when it is occurs in the workplace.


So are compliments appropriate in the workplace?


Well, there is no straight answer to such a question, but let’s begin by defining the word compliment. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, compliment is defined as “an expression of esteem, respect, affection or admiration.”


In my opinion, expressing esteem, respect or admiration is appropriate, but obviously, expressing affection is not appropriate. Even so, compliments make some people feel uncomfortable regardless of their intent—whether it is esteem, respect, affection or admiration. However, when it comes to compliments in the workplace, try to steer away from personal compliments, such as appearance, because you never know how a coworker is going to accept your compliment. For example, if Jane were to say to a colleague, “You look very nice today,” he may simply be grateful, but he may also be slightly offended by Jane’s compliment. He may be thinking, “What did does Jane mean by ‘today’? Do I not look good other days?”


Compliments can be easily misconstrued and taken the wrong way. That’s why it is smart to stick to compliments based on colleagues’ actual work rather than personal appearance. However, when giving a compliment in the workplace regarding someone’s work, it is better to be specific rather than general. For example, simply saying, “Good job!” can sound insincere. But if you were to say, “Wow, you did an excellent job implementing the security access codes for the new hires,” your coworker will feel like you are sincerely acknowledging their work and efforts.


On the other hand, when it comes to accepting compliments, remember the best way and easiest way to reply is simply to say, “Thank you.” Disputing a compliment or giving a cringed looked of skepticism can insult the compliment giver because you are basically questioning his or her judgment or sincerity.

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