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Praising the wrong things

She prepared hard for the concert. It was not her first, she had already done more than 100 over the years. At this concert, she was expecting some seasoned musicians so she put in the extra effort. The concert went well. She was happy with her own performance. Many came and complimented on her performance but there were a few who thought they were praising her. A member of the audience walked up to her and said, “You look gorgeous on the stage”. Another walked up and said, “I loved your saree” and walked away smiling

He had prepared very hard for the talk he was to deliver. He had revised the draft four times and had rehearsed it twice in front of the mirror. He consulted another friend of his and took his inputs. He delivered the talk flawlessly and was thrilled with the audience participation. While many came and complimented him on this talk, there were a few sour notes. “You look very handsome”, said one and another said, “Love your hairstyle”.

We all love compliments. We like to be praised. We also love being praised for our looks, our hairstyle, our dressing sense etc but not out of context, not by everyone and not all the time. Many people unknowingly think that any praise is good. Especially about the appearance.

The musician really squirmed at the praise she received about her looks, her dress etc. She and the speaker had climbed the stage to deliver a performance. They needed to be acknowledged for what they were presenting not for how they looked. Just because it has been drilled into us through our culture that women like to be praised for their looks does not mean that we pass compliments about that on any given occasion. The musician and the speaker were not participating in a beauty contest of any sort.

Praising people is an art. You have to think through it. Praise them for the effort. If you have been invited for a performance, praise parts of the performance, praise the content, praise something specific about the performance. If you have been invited to a dinner, praise the cooking not the appearance of the kitchen. If you have been invited to an art show, praise the work, not the frames of the art piece.

If you still feel the need to praise something physical about the person, then first praise the performance and add the other bit. “Your singing was top-class and your look good too on stage” is better than just complimenting them for the appearance.

It is good to think about what we should praise in the context, what the other person is expecting the compliments for before we dish out praise else it feels false.

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