Some poor sot recently wandered onto this blog after searching for "why is it so hard for men to compliment women". Honey, I feel ya, but it's not just a problem for men. It's generally pretty hard to give compliments to women because most of us (me) learn two things from an early age. Firstly, there's the compliments that aren't really compliments. Secondly, there's the compliments that come from an ulterior motive. After being burned a couple of times, you begin to suspect that all compliments of any type fall into one of those two categories and the, what, 5% of compliments you get that are real compliments get lost in the noise.
So, I will attempt to provide some guidance on how to give *real* compliments. The ulterior motive you'll have to deal with yourself by establishing a reputation for honesty.
1. Don't qualify your compliments. Any compliment that is accompanied by a qualifying statement is immediately disqualified. Don't tell someone "you did pretty well considering that you're sick!" (Especially since I'll guarantee you it'll turn out they weren't sick.) This will get an annoyed reaction from ANYONE with a functioning brain. See the recent Star Trek movie for a particularly good example.
2. Don't give off-topic compliments. I ran across an example of this recently when I was asking how to update an avatar. When I'm trying to figure out why I can't see my new photo, I don't want to hear about how you think it's a nice photo or I look cute or any other inane irrelevancy and I will be suspicious about the comment and wonder what's wrong with you. If I know you well, I may assume you were well-intentioned, but either way it won't come across as a real compliment.
3. Don't make subjective comparisons. Now, I'm well aware that some people do like to be compared to other people, but I'll tell you right now that those people are evil. There's only one type of subjective comparison that is okay in my book, and that's along the lines of "you're my favorite!", because it is honest and it doesn't imply that your standards are skewed. But telling a woman "you're much nicer than X" is likely to be equivalent to saying "well, at least you're not a TOTAL bitch". Don't do it.
4. Don't belabor the point. Telling a woman who has dressed up for, say, a wedding that she is hot once is okay. Telling her that she's hot by staring is okay. Telling her that she's hot, then telling her again when you get to the wedding, then telling her at the reception that someone else in the room said she was hot is not okay. She heard you the first time.
5. And above all, don't give compliments as an attempt to make peace or soften a criticism. I know for myself that the urge to do the latter, at least, can be overwhelming. I do it as a part of my critiques in college classes because we're supposed to be "nice" as well as critical, and it drives me insane every time I type one of those up. But don't *you* do this if you can possibly avoid it, because there's nothing guaranteed to get a person more emotionally involved in your criticism/argument/whatever than trying to give them a compliment at the same time. If they were impersonally detached and thinking before, they won't be after that "compliment". So don't do it.
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