If anyone has ever asked you the question “does this make me look fat?” you probably already know that there is no right way to answer. This question can come in other forms, such as “do I look old,” “does this color look good on me,” or “do you like this dinner?” If you hesitate too long or answer too fast, you may be accused of not telling “the truth.” You might even detonate an argument. While I have realized that asking such questions is futile, I have, at one time or another, been on both sides of questions like this.
Even though you may feel trapped when someone asks you such compliment seeking questions, it’s normal to want approval from others and we can’t deny that it is nice to receive a compliment. Some researchers argue that we are “pre-wired” to care about the opinions of others due to our nature as “social animals.”[i] It’s not hard to notice that some people tend to seek approval more than others by asking pointed questions or posting on social media. Not surprisingly, teenagers have a particularly sensitive need for social approval.[ii] Instead of feeling annoyed with compliment seekers, maybe we should recognize that they are just seeking approval in order to satisfy their “pre-wired” tendencies. If you interact with someone like this daily, try spontaneously complimenting them on a regular basis. In my experience, this satisfies their need for approval and helps reduce the “do you think I look fat?” type of questions.
Giving genuine compliments or expressing approval is not always easy, but the effects on both the person receiving the compliments and the person giving the compliments are profound. Compliments motivate people, increase self-esteem, and build trust. A 2012 study of 48 participants found that receiving praise boosted motor skills by increasing motivation in participants.[iii] The same study showed that receiving praise was as motivating as receiving a monetary reward. There are also benefits to the person giving the compliments. For example, giving compliments helps us take the focus off of ourselves, which can reduce our own need to seek approval from others. It can also increases contentment if the giver recognizes they are contributing to the greater good.[iv]
I recently set a goal to compliment at least one person (not including immediate family) each day. For immediate family members, who I see every day, my goal is to keep the ratio of positive to negative comments greater than 5:1. I plan to keep track of the interactions I have and post an update showing different people’s reaction to receiving a compliment. Please check back for updates and let me know if you have any comments… I really want your approval.
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