I do not think of myself as a romantic. I fear to say I am quite certain that those closest to me concur in this judgment. Indeed, they find somewhat regular occasions to remark to me about it. Yet some lessons I have learned through long, painful experience. One of these lessons has possible application to congregational leadership. This regards compliments.I have discovered—through hard experience—is that balance of perspective and recognition of possible divergent points of view is not a virtue in giving a compliment. If I were to say, for example, “I know that you wanted to lose more weight but I notice you have lost some,” it is not good. Better just to say “you look great.” Similarly, it does not work well to say “I had wished you would come even earlier, but it is good you got here now.” Better to just say, “good you are here.” Compliments work better unadorned.
The only ornamentation to a compliment that actually helps is a simple example. So, it can be good to say, “I liked how you played that music, especially the fancy finger work in the second part.” Specificity adds credibility.
I mention this here, in this place, because there are few things that can help congregational life more—especially when people are working hard or anxious—than nice unadorned compliments with nice simple examples: “I really liked the way in that meeting that took time to give each person the opportunity to speak.” “It was great that you volunteered for the youth event; I know it is not easy to get much sleep sleeping on a pew.” “The flowers looked nice today; carnations are a favorite of mine.”
Good leaders give lots of compliments, nice unadorned compliments with nice examples that show that they are actually observing.
There is sometimes amazing craziness involved in why we refrain from giving compliments. It can feel that the other person is above needing a compliment or will not value it coming from us. It can feel that giving an unadorned compliment might communicate permission to give up trying to do better on this or other things. It can feel that giving a compliment about one thing forfeits our rights to criticize. It can feel that giving a compliment might communicate that we think our disagreements with that person are unimportant. These are crazy thoughts.
This week, in honor of Valentine’s day give compliments. Give lots of compliments. Give them extravagantly and unexpectedly—though with nice well-observed examples.
It costs nothing. It helps a lot.