It may seem a little odd to you if I say that to be truly romantic, you would do well to know how to compliment anyone, not just your lover, but it’s true. The ability to compliment anyone is not just a critical romantic skill, but an important life skill as well. Giving compliments is the ability to see good things in other people, and the more good you see around you, the better you feel about yourself. In effect, by helping others to feel good, you feel good. And romance is all about feeling good and inspiring the same in others. Get it?
There are three basic categories of compliment: the impersonal compliment, the personal compliment, and the intimate compliment. The impersonal compliment is, to all intents and purposes, a waste of breath. It’s the generic “You look nice today” that means next to nothing to anyone. Because of this, I’m not going to talk about them, focusing instead on personal and intimate compliments.
In most situations, you want to avoid intimate compliments, unless you are already intimate with the recipient of your praise. An intimate compliment is one that starts with words like “You”. “You look great in that dress” is an intimate compliment. A personal compliment would start with the dress: “That dress looks good on you”. The difference is one of focus.
In the personal scenario, you are talking about the dress. By way of extension, you are complimenting the recipient’s taste in clothing without getting too intimate. It’s also a good way to start a conversation, as in “That dress looks good on you, where did you get it?” By adding a question to the compliment you are inviting the other person to join you in a conversation. The basic idea behind the personal compliment is to focus on something outside of the person, such as an article of clothing or jewelery.
The intimate compliment is focused more directly on the person. While this may seem like a good idea at first, in many situations it could lead to unintended results. Imagine you come into the office one bright morning, and tell the receptionist, “You look good in that dress.” You just told her that you think she looks good, which could be misconstrued as a come on. I probably don’t need to tell you all the different ways this could get complicated, and fast…
Personal compliments are best employed with people you have just met, or only know in passing, such as acquaintances and the like. Intimate compliments can be used with close friends or Significant Others to help them feel good about themselves. But what about regular friends?
It all depends on the level of closeness that you share with the other person. The closer you are to them, the more you can edge toward the intimate compliment. For example, you could tell a friend that the color of their shirt sets off their eyes well. While still personal (focus on the color of the shirt), it gets a little more intimate by talking about their eyes.
A final note: the rules I have outlined here are not rules telling you how to compliment anyone, so much as they are guidelines. It depends very heavily on the exact nature of your relationship with the other person. How close are you to them? How much do they trust your opinion? What gender and sexual preference are they? Assuming two friends, both heterosexual men, it could be fine for one to tell the other “You look good with that hair cut” without being inappropriate, or suggesting that you might be interested in more than just friendship.
As you employ these guidelines, just remember the only real rule to giving a compliment: be sincere. Your goal is to help the other person feel better about themselves. You are trying to give them a little shot of happiness in their day. Most people can spot insincerity a mile away, so delivering an insincere or false compliment will quite likely just annoy them. Not exactly the result we are trying for, is it?