How to Give Praise and Compliments Correctly

Science claims that good compliments are given privately, directly and sincerely. They should never be overdone.
How to Give Praise and Compliments Correctly
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

How do you praise someone in the right way? Sometimes you might overdo it. At other times, you fall short and the message isn’t understood correctly. As a matter of fact, extolling the qualities of another is a difficult art that not everyone knows how to carry out. What’s more, many of us have experienced certain people’s attempts to praise us that have done nothing but leave us feeling uncomfortable.

In addition, it’s common to distrust praise. For example, you might think that the people praising you probably say the same to everyone. Alternatively, you just don’t believe them. In fact, we’re all skeptical by nature. Furthermore, unfortunately, there are times when you don’t feel worthy of this kind of positive reinforcement. However, you need to learn both how to accept compliments and how to offer them.

Read on to find out what science has to say on the subject

All of us need to receive praise from time to time. It’s a way of recognizing another’s efforts and appreciating their worth.

work team representing how to praise someone correctly

Keys to praising someone correctly

When it comes to praising someone correctly, you must make the reinforcement both credible and enriching for the person concerned. For instance, think about how important this type of validation is in children. Consider how, if you give them praise constantly and without meaning, the child will stop trying to achieve it and it loses its value.

Therefore, the first key that you must follow is simple. You should only give a compliment when it’s warranted. It isn’t necessary to go over the top. On the other hand, you shouldn’t skimp on praise either. If a friend, employee, colleague, partner, or someone else deserves praise, let them know. Give them some real recognition.

Here are some tips.

Compliments are powerful, don’t abuse them

As we’ve mentioned earlier, less is more when it comes to praise.  A compliment is a social tool that allows you to get closer to people. Consequently, there are those people who, because they want to be thought of in a positive way or wish to gain the trust of someone, tend to go overboard with their compliments and praise.

This is never appropriate. In fact, it generates distrust. There are many ways to connect with other people but resorting to the strategy of randomly dishing out compliments for no rhyme or reason is never the right thing to do.

Keep praise private

To praise someone correctly you have to do it in private. In fact, both positive reinforcements and criticisms shouldn’t ever be made publicly in front of others.

It’s also important to choose the right time. Indeed, there are some moments more suitable than others for this type of conversation.

Know the personality of whom you want to praise

The Universities of College Roosevelt and Utrecht ( the Netherlands) conducted research that claimed in order to praise someone correctly, you must know the person so you know how to deliver the compliment.

The study came to this conclusion by observing that praise wasn’t useful in the entire sample investigated (high school students in this case). It found that, for some students, it was useful and their performance improved. However, in others, there was no change.

This shows that each individual processes these positive gestures in different ways. There are those who don’t give much importance to them while others might believe they don’t deserve them. Therefore, in order that the message be correctly received, you need to know how to make it both credible and useful.

Be specific and direct

Avoid tricks, elaborate words, and long speeches. Be direct, sincere, and confidential. Try to shape an emotional connection in order to reach the other person not only with the message but also with your non-verbal communication.

Be positive and personal

“I admire you and I’m so proud of you”, “I think your work’s absolutely outstanding”, “I was delighted that you did that”… Another key to praising someone correctly is to use the first person and always use positive words, avoiding terms such as “but”, “no”, “although”, etc.

Mother talking to her little daughter symbolizing how to praise someone in the right way

Self-praise is also important

There’s one curious aspect when it comes to praise, as the University of Bielefeld (Germany) tells us. They conducted research that indicated that, on average, we tend to believe criticism more than praise from others. Therefore, you might not always believe positive comments from others, but you’re far more likely to be sensitive to their criticism.

In reality, it would be appropriate and advisable to leave more space for compliments and praise in our lives and to celebrate them. Because we’re all worthy of these reinforcements. As a matter of fact, why not start with praising yourself? Indeed, learning to value your progress, success and your virtues is a way of strengthening your values and self-esteem. There’s nothing remotely selfish about it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Catania, A.. (2001). Positive psychology and positive reinforcement. American Psychologist. 56. 86-87. 10.1037/0003-066X.56.1.86.
  • Gleerum, Jap (2019) The effects of praise for effort versus praise for intelligence on vocational education students. Educational Psychology  An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology Volume 40, 2020 – Issue 10.
  • Meyer, W.-U. (1992). Paradoxical effects of praise and criticism on perceived ability. European Review of Social Psychology, 3, 259-283.
  • Krueger, J. I., Heck, P. R., Evans, A. M., & DiDonato, T. E. (2020). Social game theory: Preferences, perceptions, and choices. European Review of Social Psychology, 31, 322-353.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.