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  • Writer's pictureKristen Herring-Asleson

What kind of compliments are you giving?

Setting a goal is easy, keeping it, not so much. This year, just like many others and with many others, I set the goal to lose weight and exercise more. That is a pretty common goal for a lot of people, however the percentage of whose who keep it is low.

This year, the goal of exercising more has been met thus far by making it to the fitness center three to five times a week (aside from the weeks I was down with COVID and a mystery “disease” that lasted three days). Losing weight though? That is a different beast.

This morning, after a long satisfying workout, I was approached by a fellow gym member. She started out by saying, “Can I tell you something, and you will not get offended?” Quizzically, I nodded, “Yes.” She proceeded to tell me, “You may not have lost a lot of weight, but you are getting smaller.”

Now, how could I have taken offense to that? That comment was a compliment and needed to be responded to as such. I simply said, “Thank you,” and what followed was an amazing conversation about muscle weighing more than fat, how the scale is not our friend, and how inches lost should be focused on.

Why are women so easily offended when it comes to compliments, and why do we respond to by brushing them off and making excuses as to why it may not be true? Whether one is at work or in a social setting, it seems as though people are more easily offended now than in the past.

Now, keep in mind, a person making the comment may not feel as if they are offending someone, but in reality, how the person who receives the comment interprets it is what matters. And, people are all different. What one person finds offensive, another person won’t.

Still, as professionals in a workplace, it is important to be aware of the differences in how people express themselves, how they interact with coworkers and how they communicate to one another.

There are terms, that although used in everyday life, that do not belong in the workplace. More coworkers than you know of are offended by someone stated, “I’m screwed. That sucked. Or, I’m so pissed off.” Slang terms such as those a) they are not professional, and b) they are offensive to many.

According to SHRM, it is important to create an office or work environment in which people feel safe and respected. One where they can speak up when feeling offended. Really, when someone says they are offended, they are.

Now, when it comes to compliments at work, be aware they can easily cross lines. How many times have you turned on the news and heard about another sexual harassment allegation? So yes, there is a different between a compliment and harassment at work.

What defines a compliment? According to Merriam-Webster, it is “an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration.”

So, a compliment should not make someone feel uncomfortable, rather they should be made to feel respected. This is not only compliments directed at women, as men can be offended or harassed as well.

Bottom line, if you have to stop and wonder to yourself if your words are going to be taken as a compliment or viewed as offensive, do not say them. On the flip side, remember too, compliments should be part of the workplace to keep up the morale. The best type are ones related to achieving goals, projects completed well, quantity and quality goals met, and other skills. Dignity and respect – those two words are key when giving compliments.

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