How to Compliment a Coworker

Compliments can be a really great way to make someone's day. People can give them out of kindness, to recognize a job well done, or to make a deeper connection with someone. However, when it comes to compliments in the workplace, there is a professional distance that must often be observed. This is particularly true when you are complimenting someone who is a supervisor or employee, and if they are someone who you might be interested in romantically, or the possibility exists that they might think you are. There is a line to walk when you give a compliment to a coworker, but if you follow the lines of respect and professionalism, it is possible to convey a kind message without raising suspicions. Here are some guidelines:

Be Transparent with Motive
There are two reasons that someone may be suspicious of a compliment: because their motives are dishonest or because the compliment is untrue. Because of this, make sure that compliments you give are honest and the reason for giving it is clear. Compliments that honor a person's work ethic or clever solution to a problem will be well taken when they know the compliments are deserved. However, comments that verge more on flattery will often make people wonder why you are saying them.

Avoid Complimenting only one Person
Another thing that can lead to suspicion is if you only direct your compliments toward one person at work. This may lead others to believe that you are in a romantic relationship with this person, or you at least would like to be. Instead, if you give compliments, when deserved, to coworkers, be certain that you are generous to several people at work, and not just one. If you feel that one person is constantly more deserving of compliments than the rest of the people at work, you either need to think harder about how to compliment the others or revisit your feelings about that person. It's possible your feelings continue to be innocent, but even if you simply favor one person over the others, be careful. It may not be misinterpreted, but favoritism, especially if you're a supervisor, is bad for office morale.

Leave Compliments Neutral
The kind of compliment you give is also important to consider. A work-related compliment is usually fine, because it speaks to the business you are in. A neutral compliment is also fine. Something like "I like your shirt" or "Your haircut looks nice" can be taken positively without worrying that there is more to the compliment. However, telling someone that they are beautiful or sexy or getting into their personal business without their permission can be a more slippery slope. A basic rule of thumb is to keep the compliments either strictly business or of the kind that any stranger could hear without interpreting flirtation.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "How to Compliment a Coworker," in PsychologyDictionary.org, January 26, 2016, https://psychologydictionary.org/article/how-to-compliment-a-coworker/ (accessed October 17, 2019).
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