At Work: Management - Leading people - It's all right to give compliments

Managers should not be afraid of using respectful flattery to motivate staff.

I write this article with a curious mixture of profound relief and deep horror. At the recent 40th birthday celebration of MedicAlert, for which I am a trustee, I overheard a gentleman complimenting Bec Emmott, the charity's head of compliance, on how attractive she looked in her suit. A colleague reprimanded the gentleman and said that in the voluntary sector we aren't allowed to compliment people on their appearance for fear of offending.

My relief is that since joining the sector I had attributed the dearth of compliments headed in my direction to the visible ravages of an already full-on life. I hope it was only fear of reprimands that had dried up the flattery.

My horror is at the utter nonsense of the thought that it is offensive to compliment someone on their appearance. A well-placed compliment from a manager is like sunshine to flowers: it results in blossoming. So how do you do it in the right way?

To avoid accusations of sexual harassment, consider first how compliments could be interpreted. "That blouse is very flattering on you" will probably go down better than "your tits look great in that top".

Use lavish language. A meek, wimpy "your footwear is nice" is unlikely to have as much impact as "darling, what fabulous shoes!"

Aim to compliment regularly and often, and seek out nice things to say about your team. I can honestly say I have never come across anyone to whom I couldn't truthfully find something flattering to say.

If you really are too afraid to compliment your colleagues and are sitting on a vat of pent-up praise, feel free to lob some of it in my direction. I am an unrepentant fisher of compliments and will scoop them up and take them out on bad hair days.

And if there are any of you out there with rather fine eyes, a neatly turned ankle or a daring new goatee, then I apologise in advance. I will notice. And I will compliment you.

Just remember: the trick with compliments is to give and receive them with grace and respect. Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and a trustee of MedicAlert.

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