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The Boston Globe

Business

ETIQUETTE AT WORK

A compliment, written or spoken, can go a long way

I received a letter the other day. If my surprise and interest in the letter are any indication of how others might react to what has become an unusual event, perhaps more of us should consider sending real letters more often in order for that message to stand out.

The letter itself was very complimentary about “Essential Manners for Men, 2nd Edition.” As I read the letter, I was reminded about the power of the compliment. I spend a lot of time talking about rudeness and the destructive nature of negative messages, but not much time talking about positives. And compliments are a great form of the positive.

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Things to consider when giving a compliment:

 Sincerity matters. Compliments should be heartfelt as they are delivered. A monotone “Nice job” doesn’t cut it. But an enthusiastic “Nice job. I know you worked hard on the project,” does.

  Better yet, focus on something specific. “I really appreciate your effort” is pretty nebulous. “The extra hours and care you took with the XYZ contract really made a difference. Great work,” is much better. It shows you really noticed.

  You can offer your boss a compliment once in a while, too. Just be careful: Too often and it can look like you’re brownnosing. Focus your compliment on how the boss’s actions helped you understand how to handle a situation better. “Mr. Smith, the way you resolved that problem in the meeting was impressive. I learned something.”

  As a boss, if you give a compliment orally, consider putting it in writing as well so the recipient has a record of it and can bring it up at the next review.

  Don’t overuse compliments by giving too many. They should be parceled out carefully. Give them too freely and too frequently and you lose the sincerity that is so important to a good compliment.

Many times when people receive a compliment, they don’t know how to respond. So they end up diminishing it: “It was nothing.” Or, in their embarrassment they may actually say nothing. The best response to a compliment is a sincere “Thank you.”

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.

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