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Team Productivity

The Psychology and Practice of Complimenting Your Team

Daniel Threlfall
May 30, 2019
how and why to compliment your team
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“I can live for two months on a good compliment,” said Mark Twain, the American author.

That’s a long time to go without food, shelter, and Amazon Prime—but I see his point.

Compliments are powerful.

A single sentence—delivered by the right person in the right way—can completely change a person’s life.

You may have heard stories about how a famous poet, novelist, artist, or leader attributes their success to a small compliment given by a teacher or mentor.

In the microcosm of your organization, compliments can have a profound impact. Perhaps we’re not comfortable complimenting people. Maybe we don’t understand how. Maybe we just don’t know what to say. Or maybe we don’t realize how transformative compliments can be.

Mark Twain quote: “I can live for two months on a good compliment."

The science behind why we love compliments

Merriam-Webster defines a compliment as “an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration.”

To understand the science of compliments, we need to understand how people respond to kindness or to human behavior in general.

Understanding the rule of reciprocity

Social psychologists have come up with a theory called the “norm of reciprocity” or “rule of reciprocity.” It’s become such an established finding that scientists have no problem calling it a “rule,” in the same way that 2 + 2 = 4.

The idea is this: When humans receive a favor, they feel a sense of obligation to return that favor.

In one experiment, a sociologist named Dr. Phillip Kunz mailed hundreds of Christmas cards to random strangers. Each note was handwritten. In the Christmas letter, he included a picture of him and his family.

Guess what happened. 37% of Kunz’s recipients responded. Remember, he mailed these Christmas cards to total strangers—hundreds of them. Why? Kunz was just a normal looking dude, so it certainly wasn’t his photograph.

Kunz himself was taken aback: “I was really surprised by how many responses there were. And I was surprised by the number of letters that were written, some of them three, four pages long."

How do we explain this? The rule of reciprocity.

How the rule of reciprocity works in daily life

Pretend with me for a minute. Let’s say you stand up from your chair and walk out of your office and down the hall. You pass a colleague in the hallway. “Hey, Dave,” she says. (Maybe your name isn’t Dave. That’s not the point.)

What do you do after she says, “Hey, Dave”? Most likely, you turn, smile, and say, “Hey, Sarah.” (Or whatever her name is.) Why? Because you are reciprocating her friendly behavior and greeting. If you didn’t say anything, look at her, or respond, it might seem rude.

Reciprocation rules our lives. From the way we interact in our marriages, with our children, among our colleagues, or toward our employees, its implications are enormous.

Woven into the application of this rule is the act of giving a compliment. When person A gives person B a compliment, person B feels obligated to give back in some way. The rule of reciprocity governs the interaction.

Compliments are powerful because humans are responsive creatures. We are hardwired to respond to fellow humans in a similar way.

Look at compliments through the lens of the communication model. Complimenting is a two-way street. You give the compliment. The other person receives the compliment. And then you, the sender, receive feedback based on the receiver’s behavior.

The entire process is rewarding and reciprocated. Kindness begets charity. A smile elicits a smile. And a compliment can revolutionize an individual’s behavior.

What does a compliment do?

It’s hard to quantify the impact of a compliment, much less to describe its effect in a few bullet points. Nonetheless, here are a few observations about compliments.

  • Compliments enhance performance. Compliments may not pay the rent, but they help improve performance in a similar way to receiving a cash reward. In fact, research shows that a single compliment on a person’s performance or work will directly contribute to their improved skill or performance on that given task or other similar tasks.
  • Compliments boost self-perception. Most of us have a general feeling about how we look and act in the eyes of other people. We may not be confident, however, as to the accuracy of these perceptions. A compliment either affirms or enhances our self-perception with independent corroboration.
  • Compliments improve the overall environment of a workplace. A few well-placed compliments in a workplace can serve to bring up the satisfaction temperature of the whole group.
  • Compliments get the focus off yourself. As awesome as you are, getting the focus off of yourself is probably a healthy thing. In order to give a compliment, we must recognize value and worth in other people and their work.
  • Compliments affirm right behavior and actions. If someone is questioning their ability or actions, a compliment can give them a clear sense of their direction.
  • Compliments elicit goodwill toward the giver. We don’t give compliments to get people to like us. But, as the rule of reciprocity predicts, a compliment fosters a sense of closeness and friendship between the giver and receiver.

How to give a meaningful compliment

At this point, I need to issue a little disclaimer.

Compliments are not flattery. These are two very different things, even though they look a lot alike. The difference lies in the giver.

A flatterer gives to get. A complimenter gives to give.

Someone who delivers compliments does so to benefit others.

If you give compliments (and I hope you will) please do so with a sincere focus upon others and their well-being, not your own benefit or reputation.

Here are a few tips on giving a meaningful compliments to your team members:

  • Compliment authentically. I realize I’m repeating myself, but that’s okay. Authenticity is crucial.
  • Compliment frequently. Complimenting someone on a regular basis can be a great way to strengthen a relationship. I can’t give you a compliment calendar, but I can suggest that you compliment others when you sense they need or deserve it.
  • Compliment according to the other person’s comfort level. Some people are very uncomfortable receiving a compliment. If you’re not sure how an individual will respond to your compliment, try getting to know them a little bit first. Are they an out-there extrovert, with a desire to be recognized by others? Or do they shun the spotlight and prefer to keep a low profile? Compliments can be given publicly or privately, but should respect the comfort level of the person you’re complimenting.
  • Compliment specifically. Some compliments are cliché and shallow. “Nice tie” is less impactful than, “I noticed that you sent in that proposal 3 days ahead of deadline. You even included some extra details that will probably seal the deal! Well done!” Pointing out a specific trait, task, attribute, or accomplishment will give the person a greater sense of appreciation.
  • Compliment appropriately. Some compliments, kind and sincere as they may be, aren’t appropriate. I’ll leave “not appropriate” up to your imagination. Examples of appropriate compliments are remarking on someone’s work, productivity, family, achievements, etc. More personal compliments should be reserved for special relationships, not professional ones.

Who can you compliment today?

The more you compliment, the better you’ll get at it. And the better you’ll feel about yourself, your team members, and your work environment.

Just be real. Don’t overdo it, overthink it, or try too hard.

Simply say what you mean, and mean it.

Project management milestone examples

Milestones make it easier to keep projects on track by calling out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables. Here are a few examples of project milestones you might include in your plan:

  • Start and end dates for project phases
  • Key deliveries
  • Client and stakeholder approvals
  • Important meetings and presentations
  • Key dates or outages that may impact your timeline

Let’s dig a little deeper and explore 3 specific examples of how using project milestones can benefit your projects.

Monitor deadlines

No plan is ever complete without a list of deadlines! The best way to make them noticeable is to use the project management milestones and deliverables technique. What does this mean? Make the deliverables project milestones!

Why do this? Well, it’s no secret that not everyone wants to pore over your beautiful project plan to find key dates. Most people—your teammates included—want a top-level view of key dates and events. Milestones are great for this purpose because they’re called out in a special way—usually with a diamond—in project plans.

While you should list the tasks and effort leading up to a project milestone, be sure to present the milestone at the end of those tasks to signify a delivery, or even a presentation of, the deliverable.

Here's an example of how Washington Hyperloop uses milestones to track an important deadline in their project.

Spotlight important dates

Are there days from now until the end of your project that could impact your project in some way? Maybe your team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training. Maybe there’s a board meeting you’re expected to attend.

It’s important to keep all of these important events in mind when you’re planning a project because they could possibly impact your project schedule. So why not include them as project milestones so you can track them all in one place?

In this example, the team’s off-site strat-op meeting has been added to the project plan as a milestone so work can be scheduled around it.

date milestone in gantt chart

Identify potential project bottlenecks

Many projects rely on the work produced by external teams or partners to make forward progress. If you’re not tracking those external factors somewhere, there’s a great chance you’ll forget to follow-up on it.

That’s why it’s important to list these deliverables as project milestones if you’re working on a project that depends on someone or something outside of your project. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a client approval.

deliverable milestone in gantt chart

Want to hit major milestones on time more often?

We’ve got a free class to help you get everyone on board with your plan! Register for Plan Up: How to Create and Sell a Winning Project Plan to see why planning sets the stage for project success, and get a free Guide to Project Planning when you sign up.

How to create a project milestone

Creating milestones for your project plan can be simple, especially with TeamGantt. Once you’ve mapped out your overall process and plan with your team, you can easily add tasks, identify gantt chart milestones, and determine task owners. Adding a milestone (or converting a task to a milestone) is very easy in TeamGantt.

Once you’ve signed up for a TeamGantt account, here’s a quick video on how to create milestones:

Project milestones are easy to create and even easier to track because you’ve called out the most important points in your project.

How to share project milestones with clients and stakeholders

Want to give clients and stakeholders a high-level view of the project? Simply follow these steps to share a PDF of key project milestones in your gantt chart.

1. Filter your project by milestones.

From your gantt chart view, click the All Dates menu at the top of your gantt chart, and select Only Milestones from the drop-down.

filter gantt chart by project milestones

2. Export your filtered project to a PDF file.

Navigate to your project's Menu, and select Print/Export PDF from the drop-down.

export gantt chart with project milestones to PDF

Customize your PDF settings, then click View PDF to complete the export. From there, you can download and/or print your PDF to share with clients and stakeholders.

share PDF of gantt chart filtered by project milestones

Who would have thought such a critical step could be so easy?

Hit every project milestone with ease

TeamGantt makes it easy to create, track, and collaborate on all your project milestones so nothing slips through the cracks.

You’ll have all the features you need to ensure projects finish on time and under budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and workload management.

Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍

Give TeamGantt a free try today!

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