Giving Effective Compliments

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This workshop is a brief introduction to using Nonviolent Communication to express gratitude and craft effective compliments.

Instructional Material

The framework we are going to use for this workshop is Marshall B. Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, which focuses on addressing the underlying needs of both participants in the conversation. Nonviolent communication is separated into four components:

1: Observations

Observations are concrete things and actions you’ve noticed.

When communicating observations, you should separate them from evaluations or judgments. When you include evaluations with your observations, people are likely to hear criticism and resist what you say. Communicate what you observe as specifically as possible.

When you give an evaluation, base it on communicated observations and phrase it so that the other person knows that it is your interpretation and not a claim you are making about reality.

2: Feelings

By “feelings” I mean actual emotions and physical sensations, not thoughts or assessments. Negative feelings are your body’s way of telling you that one of your needs isn’t being met. Positive feelings mean that one of your needs is being met. Every feeling comes from an internal need and an external stimulus.

3: Needs

Needs are the true root of our feelings. What others do may be the stimulus for our feelings, but never the cause. From Maslow's hierarchy to goals we choose to pursue. Getting a clear sense of our own needs and other’s needs allows us to put fulfilling those needs front and center of communication and move the framing from “me versus them” to “us versus the problem.”

Responding to the needs behind someone’s judgment and criticism can help diffuse verbal attacks.

4: Requests

Note. We won’t be using this component for our compliments, but it is a core part of Nonviolent Communication.

Whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return, whether it is simply acknowledgement, or their understanding, or a call for action on their part. Phrase requests as positive actions (“do this…”) rather than negative actions (“don’t do this…”). The clearer the request, the more likely it is to be fulfilled.

Compliment Giving

Now let’s use Nonviolent Communication to express your gratitude or give a compliment.

For Expressing Gratitude

  • State your observations of what the other person did, the more precise the better
  • Say how that made you feel
  • Tell them about the need of yours they met through their actions

You don’t need to put the steps in that order.

Example. “Thank you for watching my dog while I was out of town. You sent me update messages each time you took him on a walk. That really helped me to relax and enjoy my vacation knowing that Spot was safe and fed.”

Expressing a Compliment

  • The best compliments are ones that are about something the complimentee had some agency in.
  • State your observations of what the other person did, the more precise the better The less common a compliment, the more impact it has.
    • "That outfit is awesome" is a good compliment.
    • "The way your boots match your purse is stylish" is a much better compliment
  • You can say how it made you feel.
  • You can tie it back to how the thing or action the complimentee is doing is adding value by fulfilling a need.

Cohort Activity

  1. Compliment or thank someone in your cohort. Go through the steps of identifying and explicitly specifying the parts
  2. Make a list of people you want to thank or compliment
  3. Brainstorm with your cohort on how to phrase a compliment if you need help
  4. Send your message to (at least) one person on your list

Optional Material

For more information on Nonviolent communication, check out the book and the instruction guide. And you can do these exercises to test your understanding.

Community Notes

This section contains links and information that Guildmembers found helpful.

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