Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Compliment

If you read this post, you know that I don't believe in the wholesale avoidance of the opposite sex. But this means that there's a whole world of gray in which to make decisions of how to act day to day. One fun minefield is the realm of compliments. To compliment or not to compliment?

I've worked at Christian companies for the past six years, so maybe these ideas will sound weird to you. But Christian workplaces are often weird. There is a whole spectrum of beliefs on the topic of complimenting.

On one extreme there are the Tight Lips. These are the ones who will treat you courteously, but make it clear that they are concerned that the opposite sex has an infectious disease. They would never be so forward as to make any comment that implied that they approved of you, your being, or anything related to you in any way.

Then there are the Buddies. These are the ones who act like your sibling and compliment you as often as they make fun of you.

Then on the other extreme there are the Skeevs. These are the ones who may say something identical to the Buddies but something in the manner of their look and tone make you feel like worms are crawling up the back of your arms.

Where do you fall in the spectrum? I hope you're not a Skeev. I must admit that I am a complimenter. I think the world would be a better place if we all gave more compliments to one another.

I tend to compliment people's clothing, men included. I appreciate fashion, but most men's fashion is as boring as a box of bran flakes. So if a man is wearing a nice shirt, I will tell him so. I don't believe this makes him suddenly want to run away with me to St. Thomas. (But please let me know if I'm wrong.) I would say to a man, "Hey, that's a great shirt." But I wouldn't say, "That's a right sexy shirt, Mister Thang."

At a church I used to go to, the pastor's wife instructed that no man should compliment a woman ever. I disagree with this. I love dresses. It is one of the great ambitions of my life to collect an entire wardrobe of fabulous dresses. Occasionally a dude will say, "Hey, cool dress." I appreciate this. It affirms my great life ambition. I wouldn't appreciate him saying, "That's a right sexy dress, Miss Thang."

But I don't like personal appearance compliments to stray beyond the objective things, such as that my dress rocks. I don't want to know if you think I'm beautiful or that I have beautiful eyes. (Both of which I've been told by male Christian coworkers.) I can't receive compliments like this about my personal being without either a. having an emotional reaction or b. thinking you're a skeev. I don't want a, and you don't want b.

On the other hand, my husband is someone who compliments women. I like this about him. It wouldn't be odd for him to get within six inches of someone's face and say, "You have really interesting eyes. I like the yellow spots in them; they remind me of creme brulee." But my husband is an odd duck. I don't think most men could pull this off, but my husband is luckily on the Buddy line on the spectrum, not the Skeev.

On the other hand, there are many compliments that could be given, but rarely are, about our unique gifts and skills and character traits. I wouldn't want someone to say to me, "You're the most intelligent woman I've ever met," (though I may secretly wish them to think it), but I would appreciate someone saying, "Hey, I really appreciated your insights on this topic."

We are instructed to "encourage one another and build one another up," in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and I think this includes pointing out areas where you see others striving and shining. Encouragement is a kind of compliment that is a good thing. And a little can go a long way. I used to sing in my college worship band. I loved singing in practice, but I was very self concious of whether or not I sounded like a drowning cat during worship. In all the time that I sang, I got one compliment, and I remember it to this day 13 years later. It was meaningful, as it put my worries at ease. It was Josh, by the way, Krista, so give him a pat on the back. I think he said, "You sang nice," in typical Josh form.

So often the small words of encouragement that we give others are stored up and treasured. Not in a "I'd like to run off to St. Thomas with you in a bikini" way, but in a, "Hey, that really meant a lot to me and built me up," kind of way.

What do you think? Are you tight lipped? Are you a buddy? Where do you think we should land on the spectrum?


Elizabeth M. said...

You only got one "good singing" compliment? That sucks. Hmm. Well, I think I shall be more free with my singing compliments...I often tell Travis (when we were there) that I loved worship...but that was because he was my friend. Anyway, I thought your post was both terribly insightful :) and hilarious, Miss Thang! I appreciate the encouragement. And I love that you comment on my blog. That is a compliment in, and of, itself (punctuation correct?).
I think I definitely have friends that are guys that I can be honest with...Josh, Mike, Halden,Tom, Travis, Kyle, Craig...but I agree, a lot of the time my friends husbands are NOT my friends and I don't really want to talk to them....not in a bad way, just in a....hmm, I don't know. But I do really appreciate when a friends husband just says "Hi, How are you?" Instead of ignoring me :) Maybe I should compliment that.

Amber said...

Liz, I agree that with some friend's husbands, it can be weird. I think the context is different in a work setting, where it's somewhere who you regularly work with, too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that compliments can build somone up just as a smile can brighten someones day. They should be genuine and given with no expectation of getting something in return . . . so no skeevs and no brown nosers, please. Sometimes, we say things without thinking or maybe we just aren't that artful so let's have some understanding here and judge comments and compliments by what the giver meant to say.

And yes, in the work place, put away pettiness, stand-off-ish-ness, jealousy or hyper propriety and give someone credit for a good job or a thanks for their input.

We need to learn not only to give, but to receive compliments. One of the hardest things to do is to take a compliment gracefully. If someone says, that was a great presentation or you look great and you say, no I'm not at my best, you have just insulted their taste and their compliment. Just smile and say, "Thank you."