The Four Components of a Successful Compliment


Giving compliments not only makes someone feel good, but it also transfers information about the process of work. Over time, the information contained in a moment of recognition allows members of the group to improve in a way that criticism, the opposite of recognition, does not.


But it's not enough to just say, "Good job." When we give effective compliments, we accomplish so much more. A good compliment demonstrates why the effort was important, how it connected to others' efforts, why it was a success, and the specific excellence within the individual's actions. We often only say the last point, if we say anything at all more than, "Good job."


Here are the four things that the functional approach to leadership tells us we must include in a compliment:

  • Focus on the connection to vision. How did the success contribute to the meaningful change for the customer?

  • Show the connections between individuals. In addition to the vision, what interactions between members allowed this excellence to take place? How did specific aspects of the division, performance, and recombination of work lead to excellence?

  • Help members recognize success in the future. What indicators reveal that their work was excellent, even before it was combined into a final product?

  • Don't neglect personal recognition. All group success is a group effort, but point out where the individual contributed. Where did the individual contribute in a unique or excellent manner? This wraps up the whole compliment and allows the person to see their role in the larger whole.

We use compliments not only to reward but also to act upon the functions. Well-designed recognition is a valuable opportunity to develop new behaviors in members of the group. A complete compliment shows the impact of the action and the way that it was excellent, which allows for the member (and others) to seek out similar moments in the future.


To make a complete compliment even more effective, remember the mantra: Praise in public (and punish in private). Public recognition allows others to learn from the member's success because the compliment strengthens shared vision and builds relationships. Public recognition also models feedback, which reduces the discomfort of giving compliments and demonstrates what a productive compliment includes. Finally, public praise is a form of constant feedback.


We don't have to make a big deal out of a compliment, it can be a simple "good job" and a few more words of explanation. The most important aspect of recognition is that it includes the details that connect the receiver to future work. Each point doesn't have to be big but think about each one before you recognize excellence in the group.


And while you're considering how to give effective compliments, check out the other side of feedback: how best to receive compliments, and how to learn from the compliments you receive.

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