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Author Topic: Compliment etiquette  (Read 11291 times)

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Compliment etiquette
« on: October 21, 2009, 07:13:05 PM »
This was sparked by something I read in another discussion, in which an eHellion stated that it is poor etiquette to comment on a person's appearance.

That makes sense to me, honestly, but what I was wondering is this: are there ways to politely compliment someone on their appearance?  I was always taught that it's acceptable to say something along the lines of, "oh, what a lovely brooch!  It really brings out your eyes" or some such.  I'd be very interested to hear y'all's take on the subject.

Many thanks!


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2009, 01:13:41 AM »
I think your compliment is acceptable and I would be thrilled to receive such a compliment.  I think people get in trouble when they compliment others on sensitive topics such as weight loss or if their compliment is creepy.  For example, a woman might not be flattered to be told by a strange man that she has a "great body" because she might perceive him as a threat. 


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2009, 01:18:32 AM »
Of course, there are also people who are just drama llamas and are going to twist any compliment to give them something to be offended about. So the etiquette of that is not bothering to compliment them again.

(I too would be fine with your example, but I'm notoriously hard to offend by conventional means.)


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2009, 01:28:57 AM »
I think part of the problem is when it's really a "backhanded compliment", where there are other implications to what they're saying.   Or when the comment indicates surprise. 

"On some people that outfit wouldn't work, but on you it looks great"

"Wow, that top looks great on you!"   can sometimes imply that the speaker wouldn't expect anything to ever look great on you.

"You look great, have you lost weight?"   always makes me think "Lol, did they think I needed to lose weight?"

But of course, it's always a matter of perception.   But I think it's safe to say that commenting on somebody's personal appearance is generally a no-no.  Compliment the person, compliment items they wearing etc, but in most cases it's not appropriate to comment on their general physical appearance.    (There are exceptions to that - generally saying "You look absolutely fabulous!" is ok by me!)    ;)

But straightforward compliments are ok, IMHO:

"That top you're wearing is lovely, the colour looks great on you"
"I really like that necklace, it's stunning"

"Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something"


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2009, 12:09:29 AM »

There's nothing wrong with compliments, as long as they are appropriate. Comments on personal appearance are ones that can easily be gotten wrong.

"Nice [female body part]" is not appropriate in most circumstances.

"You look pretty today" could be appropriate or not, depending on who you are giving it to and where; at work, for example, it could be problematic.

"I like your brooch" is fine - it's not too intimate.


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2012, 12:11:06 PM »
Another thread reminded me of something: If somebody makes a change to their appearance, never tell them how bad they looked before.

Good:  "That haircut looks great and the color really suits you"

Bad:  "That haircut looks great and the color really suits you.  Your hair looked so flat and lifeless before and the color really washed you out."

I would also err on the side of caution for weight loss compliments.  If somebody is working on losing weight and is open about it, they would probably appreciate somebody telling them they looked great.  However, if somebody doesn't mention it, I probably wouldn't say anything.

Since compliments on appearance can easily be taken wrong, it's probably best to save them for those you are closest to so there are no misunderstandings.  In environments such as work, I probably would be much more likely to compliment somebody of my same gender and on something like clothing or a change in hairstyle.  I am flattered when a stranger compliments an item of my clothing so I don't mind complimenting a stranger if it seems appropriate.


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2012, 12:17:52 PM »
I think it's generally safer to compliment people on something they chose on purpose to make themselves look good (haircut, outfit, jewelry) than on something their body just did (like height). So the brooch is probably safe with most people.

I'll also agree about weight loss being a tricky subject. If someone lost weight, for example, they might have been dieting on purpose to lose it...or they might be seriously ill and have lost it by accident. I've heard from a number of people that it can be hurtful when they're miserable with chemo/Crohn's/whatever and everyone is gushing because it made them thinner in the process. I tend to leave weight alone unless I know the person well enough to know they're intentionally trying to gain or lose.


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2012, 12:25:52 PM »
I think you can comment about "weight" without commenting about weight.  I often compliment people with, "You look great! You seem really happy!"  They may follow it up with, "Thanks!  I've been doing Crossfit and I love how I feel!"  But it isn't a comment of, "Have you lost weight?"


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2012, 01:09:33 PM »
I think you can comment about "weight" without commenting about weight.  I often compliment people with, "You look great! You seem really happy!"  They may follow it up with, "Thanks!  I've been doing Crossfit and I love how I feel!"  But it isn't a comment of, "Have you lost weight?"

Yeah, you can tell someone they look great, in a vague sort of way--even if it's because you can tell they've lost weight--and let them bring it up or not as they choose. :)


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2012, 12:02:28 AM »
I hate compliments for the hell of it.  They lose their meaning. Compliments should be reserved for when something really is great.  And usually, in those circumstances, the recipient can hear the genuine sentiment in your delivery.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2012, 01:22:41 AM by katycoo »

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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2012, 02:33:10 PM »
It falls into the realm of something is intimate or not, and the tone of the compliment.

For example, I am super into high heels and fancy hats, especially vintage hats.  I get tons of compliments on my shoes and hats from men and women both.  Most of the time I accept the compliments with a smile and a thank you.  "oh, I love those shoes!"  "That hat is really cool" "Those are some great shoes".  Etc...  However, strange creepy man saying saying in a lascivious "Mmmmm, girl, you are working those shoes" gets a nasty look from me.  Similarly, I will compliment another woman if she has a hat/handbag/shoes/coat that I admire.

I also get complimented a lot on my smile, I always graciously say thank you because I see that as a genuine sincere compliment without any undertones.  Even if it is an opening line, it's an opening line that shows me respect.

Compliments on my physical appearance, it depends.  BF can compliment any part of me in any tone (he does save certain compliments for alone time for the record), because we have an intimate relationship.  My girl friends and my close guy friends can give me similar compliments, because we have trust built between us and I know it's just a compliment, not an attempt to get something more from me.  Not okay for random strangers to say that because I don't know what their intentions are, and 99% pf the time, those intentions are sleazy.

Like most gray areas in life it boils down to, know your audience, mind your tone and be sincere.

Cute side story.  One evening I popped into the little corner store in my neighborhood after work.  I had on one of my fancy hats, high heel boots, pencil skirt, I had worn to work.  This little girl yelled "Oh my Gosh Mommy, look at that lady, she's so pretty".  Those compliments, always welcome!   ;D  Yes, I smiled and thanked her.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2012, 02:35:58 PM by Auntie Mame »
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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2012, 12:14:47 PM »
Over-the-top compliments can come off as insincere and disingenuous.  Keep it real.  I had a coworker who gushed a lot and was a "compliment junkie".  She always told me what a "stunning, natural beauty" I was which sounds nice......but she said that about everyone, literally everyone.  It was like that Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets flattered by a compliment on her beauty  and then overhears the same compliment directed at the "homely baby".

I think the best compliments are the ones you hear second hand!!!They are more believable.


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2012, 05:44:33 AM »
I agree with 'know your audience' if it's a personal comment, such as weight.  However, for something the person is wearing it's fine to say I like your scarf/hat/shoes/whatever. 

Something like hair, I find it can depend.  For example if I say to a work colleague wow your hair is looking really good today she might think I don't normally think it looks good.  If they hair is different to how it normally is, a different colour, down instead of up, shorter, longer then I'll compliment but otherwise I'm too afraid of offending.


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Re: Compliment etiquette
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2013, 07:31:38 PM »
Regarding weight loss - also keep in mind the prevalence of eating disorders.  I still remember all the compliments I got for dropping weight, even the "indirect ones", when I dropped down from a slim-but-healthy weight to about 5 pounds away from being hospitalized.  But cuss it all to tarnation, everyone I met told me how good I looked!