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Belonging starts with giving better compliments at work

A compliment can go a long way in the workplace, for both the receiver and the giver. It’s scientifically proven that verbal affirmations are neurologically processed similarly to financial rewards. Despite this, managers can have a terrible habit of staying silent when it comes to positive feedback. A sociologist explains how to give better compliments.

No matter what kind of industry you work in, ask yourself this: when was the last time you paid a colleague a compliment? When was the last time you received one? How did it make you feel?

A simple compliment can go a long way in the workplace, not just for the receiver, but also for the giver. In fact, neuroscientists proved that a verbal affirmation is registered by the brain in a similar way to pay rises and bonuses. Other research points to improved memory, learning, motivation and other cognitive functions as a result of the humble compliment.

Being on the receiving end of a well-timed and thoughtful compliment can serve as a powerful reminder that their hard work and efforts are recognised and appreciated by their colleagues, which can lead to a more positive and collaborative work environment.

For the giver, when we take the time to acknowledge the achievements and efforts of others, it can help us cultivate a more positive and empathetic mindset. Additionally, by focusing on the positive attributes of our colleagues, we can build stronger relationships with them, which can lead to increased trust, better communication, and a more supportive work environment.

Despite all these incredible benefits, managers can have a terrible habit of staying silent when it comes to positive feedback. This may be because they underestimate the positive impact that kind words can have. This is true both in and out of the workplace. When we look at things like online reviews, there’s a pattern of behaviour to suggest you’re more likely to leave a review if you’ve had a bad experience, but say nothing when you’ve had a good one.

Having a tight team connection can go a long way for improving collective intelligence and engagement among your team. On the flip side, feeling lonely, isolated and unappreciated at work can have seriously detrimental consequences on your professional performance, as well as lead you feeling deflated even when the work day is over.

“It’s more important than ever to strengthen the bond you have with others, and an easy way to do this is by offering thoughtful praise. Many of us have a terrible habit of staying silent when it comes to giving positive feedback, which is a missed opportunity for connection,” said Dr. Liz Kofman-Burns, Ph.D. Sociologist and co-founder of DEIB consultancy, Peoplism. “If you’re reading this, I challenge you to carve out just 5 minutes of your day to send at least one person a compliment. Even if it’s only something small, praise can go a long way, but it’s most effective when given alongside concrete examples. Make sure to elaborate the ways in which your team member has shown this trait.”

Peoplism has developed a framework for compliments, which includes nine different archetypes, to kickstart thinking about which of your colleagues you could compliment right now.

  1. The Light heart: someone who keeps things light-hearted, fun, and enjoyable
  2. The Philosopher: your first choice for wisdom, balance, and perspective
  3. The Goalie: someone who keeps things from falling through the cracks
  4. The Bridge: someone who connects other people together
  5. The Lightbulb: someone who is open to new ideas and full of creativity
  6. The Ant: someone who always puts the interests of the team above their own
  7. The Gardener: someone who nurtures talent around them and multiplies it
  8. The Rock: someone the team knows they can always count on
  9. The Celebratorian: someone who offers their support and encouragement to elevate others

Make sure to elaborate on the specific ways in which your team member has shown this trait. Instead of saying “great job on that project”, try “I really appreciate the way you analyzed the data and presented your findings in a clear and concise manner. Your work was instrumental in making the project a success.” 

If you still feel lost for words, here are some examples of how you could structure your compliment:

For The Goalie: “Hi [colleague], just wanted to send you a quick thank you for being our team’s biggest goalie. You never ever let anything fall through the cracks and I can’t imagine how we’d get everything done to such a high level of quality without your amazing efforts. [Add elaboration and examples]”

For The Lightbulb: “Hey [colleague]. I wanted to drop you a note to thank you for always bringing new, creative ideas to the table. You came to that brainstorm armed with a wealth of great ideas and helped refine others in the best possible way too.”

For The Gardener: “Hi [colleague], I’d like to take a minute to say thank you for helping me while I was struggling with that client brief. I’m really grateful of the time you took to offer valuable guidance about their industry, and all the ongoing support and encouragement you’ve shown me as I learn the ropes on this new account.”

For The Philosopher: “Hey [colleague]. I wanted to give you a quick shout out to say how much I appreciate your ability to maintain a level head and offer a broader perspective on the rollout of the new customer service journey. You have a real talent for cutting through the noise and offering wisdom that helps us all stay on track, so thank you!”

For The Bridge: “Hi [colleague]. I just want to let you know how much I appreciate all the work you do to bring our team together a foster a sense of community. That team social last week was a huge success, and it really helped us all connect outside of the office. Not only that, you’re always the first to greet everyone with a smile on your face and check in with us. You’re a true asset to our team!”

It is important to offer compliments to all members of your team, not just those who you work closely with or who have the highest profile. Everyone likes to be recognised and appreciated for their hard work, and offering compliments to all members of your team can help foster a more inclusive and collaborative work environment. Bonus points for finding something positive about someone who you don’t have the best relationship with and sending them a compliment – who knows what the result might be.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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