When is the last time you complimented a coworker? With more than three quarters of us suffering from work-related burnout, it can be hard to just get through the day, let alone try to perk up someone else’s. But giving compliments may be just what we need to handle today’s stressors, suggests Michelle Rozen, PhD, author of 2 Second Decisions: The Secret Formula for Leading Change by Making Quick Winning Choices.
“Every time you receive a genuine compliment, it triggers the same area in the brain as receiving cash,” says Rozen. “It’s the reward system, and it’s like getting $100 bucks. With so much stress, burnout, and mental exhaustion today, we can create real change when we realize the power of compliments.”
Compliments Also Benefit the Giver
Getting a compliment is a nice brain boost. But giving them can be equally as powerful. That’s because our brains are prewired to focus on the negative, a once-vital protection mechanism that boosted our chances of survival by scanning for potential threats.
“The problem is that in modern times our mind is still wired to focus on the negative,” says Rozen. “I don’t think a lion is coming to eat you anytime soon, but since our mind is wired to look for negative, we constantly walk around noticing what people do wrong. We correct our coworkers, our spouses, and our kids.”
Focusing on the negative stands in the way of your relationships because nobody likes to be constantly corrected. When you compliment someone, though, they’ll want more because you see the good in them. “It’s a very addictive feeling,” says Rozen. “They’ll want to know, ‘How can I work with that person?'”
Giving compliments also trains your brain to look for the positive. If you were always the kind of person who corrected other people and focused on what was wrong, shifting your attention to the good creates a mindful moment and gets you out of a negative cycle.
Creating a Compliment Habit
Just any compliment won’t do, though. “If you tell me, ‘I like your sweater,’ that’s very nice. I’m very happy you like my sweater, but you just gave me a nickel,” says Rozen. ” A genuine compliment means that you notice something amazing that I’ve done. People do amazing things all the time. We just take it for granted.”
Genuine compliments require you to shift your mind to notice the good around you in detail. For example, you could say to a coworker, “I saw the work that you did with the client. Your proposal was well-delivered. Your opening was strong, and I could see that you really connected with them.”
“The receiver thinks, ‘She saw me and how much effort I put into that proposal. She appreciates me,'” says Rozen. “It’s heartfelt. You can’t lie when it comes to genuine compliments. You can’t not appreciate something that I’ve done and tell me in detail that it’s good.”
Giving compliments demonstrates care and compassion for others and can be motivating. Once you communicate their good actions to them, they’re going to repeat that behavior in order to feel that pleasure you triggered in the reward system in the brain.
“They will want to please you, because you’re the person who notices the good and triggers that reward center in their brain,” she says. “You’re the person who goes around giving out hundreds. It creates a dynamic where you are empowering them, so that we can all uplift each other through the current times.”
Rozen suggests creating an intentional compliment habit, ending your day by asking yourself how many genuine compliments you’ve given. Ideally that number should be five. “If I can’t count on one hand the number of compliments I’ve given, I need to go out there tomorrow and do better,” she says.
Compliments are more important than ever. “I think any crisis is always a reshuffling of cards,” says Rozen. “This is an opportunity to reassess our priorities these days. What are the things that are more important to us? And what kind of world we live in? Giving compliments is a win-win because I feel better by focusing on the positive and I make someone else feel good about themselves.”