There’s a shop I frequent in my little town, and there’s a really friendly woman who works in this shop. The first time I went in when she was working, she complimented my hair. Ironically, I was about to go get my hair cut, so I told her so and kind of laughed about it. She proceeded to tell me how lucky I was to have waves in my hair—was it natural? Yes, it was, always has been, trust me—because she used to be, or maybe still was, a hairstylist and she knew about these sorts of things things. It felt a little awkward to continue the conversation, so I mostly just shrugged it off since, well, I like my hair super short and I was getting it cut regardless of this woman’s opinion.
But, of course, it was nice to be told how rockin’ my hair was by a stranger.
Another time I went into the shop, the same woman was working and she asked me about the boots I was wearing. She said she’d been looking for a pair of boots and mine were really amazing boots—the exact thing she’d been looking for. Then we talked about them for quite a few minutes: what brand they were (Keen), where I bought them (Amazon), how comfortable they were (very), how last year’s styles are significantly cheaper.
And they are great boots. I’m a jeans-tucked-into-my-boots kind of gal. I will sing the praises of my boots to just about anyone who wants to hear it.
Still, call me cynical, but as the conversation went on, I couldn’t help but wonder about how over-the-top her interest in my boots was. I didn’t doubt that she liked the boots, but it seemed odd that she liked them That Much.
A few minutes later, a friend of mine came into the shop and I heard this same woman interact with her. I listened from across the room. This time it was how gorgeous my friend’s shirt was. She went on and on about it.
As I listened in, I began to question my own motives in complimenting other people. How often do I cross the line from complimenting, making conversation, and chitchatting into the territory of telling lies? And then I got philosophical about whether or not it matters.
Don’t get me wrong—this shop woman might have been telling the truth. Maybe she makes a conscious effort to find something beautiful in every person who comes into the shop—our hair, our clothing, our funky glasses. And then she voices her genuine appreciation in an attempt to boost our self-esteem, brighten a customer’s day, or, even more simply, to make conversation.
It does break the ice, after all, to tell someone how good she looks.
But what if it isn’t sincere? What if you tell someone she has amazing hair and she really doesn’t? Well, it probably is not a big deal and, what’s more, it will probably make her feel pretty great.
But no harm, no foul? I’m not sure.
Your dad does not tell the parents of a newborn that their child is cute if he doesn’t think the child is. I’m serious. He’ll say something kind—look at those eyes! So much hair! What tiny hands!—but it won’t be that the child is cute or beautiful if, quite honestly, he doesn’t think so.
Because he thinks honesty matters and there’s no reason to use a dishonest statement as the basis of a conversation. He’s still complimentary, he’s still making conversation, and he’s still being positive and encouraging to new parents.
But not all babies are cute.
I know that I like to compliment people. And I know that I’ve caught myself telling someone she looks good or that a shirt is beautiful when I don’t particularly think it’s true.
I don’t think it matters.
Or, I should say, I don’t think it matters to a degree.
But what if we get into the habit of telling these fibs? That’s where it gets fuzzy for me.
Well, for one thing, too many fibs, even positive ones—maybe especially positive ones—can make us seem insincere, whether we are or not.
Because that’s how I also felt in the shop that day—when I heard my friend being effusively complimented. I didn’t think, “Gosh, she does look pretty awesome today.” I thought, “I bet that woman didn’t even like these boots.”
I don’t want to overemphasize this example because, quite honestly, my feelings weren’t hurt. I don’t care if someone likes my boots. That’s trivial.
But it could matter in other instances.
And feelings could get hurt.
The point is that when I heard someone else going overboard with the compliments, it made me want to be more circumspect when offering my own praise.
It made me want to be more genuine.
It made me want to be sincere when I offer a compliment or an encouragement.
Because I want my words to matter.
And that’s what I guess I want to tell you today. Your words do matter.
Less is more. Be sincere.