After much social isolation, many of us are gagging for some interaction wherever we can get it. Now we’re back out in the world, we’re appreciating the lives of strangers we would’ve once ignored as we passed by. Where we once stared at the ground, we want to smile at and acknowledge those living around us. But whether it’s thanks to readjusting into normal life again or you’ve been a little socially awkward forever, complimenting a stranger and striking up conversation takes courage.
Complimenting someone is a great way to add a smile into their commute or it can be a great ice-breaker opening the door to a friendship or even relationship if you’re in the market. We’ve spent the past year and a bit commenting in all caps on people’s Instagram photos, but shouting one-word compliments at people IRL may not have the desired effect. While lovely to receive compliments, someone shouting objectifying terms at you in the street is quite the opposite. Contrary to popular belief, most people do not like strangers shouting what they believe to be compliments at them. Verbal harassment and compliments are two very different things, let’s not allow the first to ruin the latter.
Verbal harassment takes many forms and looks different to each person. What to one can be a compliment, can be extremely upsetting to another. Being shouted at on the street, even if the intention is ‘good’, can be absolutely terrifying for people whose communities are frequently and unduly targeted with hate.
If you genuinely want to compliment someone, then go for it! There’s lots of people taking fashion risks they would never have taken before this pandemic, and showing them appreciation for doing so is a sure way to make them smile. When you take two seconds to notice something and then speak it with a smile, you often get a smile in return. You just made someone feel seen and appreciated. It’s such a simple, mundane thing to take an interest in the people around you and show them appreciation – it’s something we should never again take for granted.
So, you’ve spotted someone wearing the coolest outfit you’ve seen all day and you need to tell them how amazing the fit is – don’t panic – we’re here to talk you through this.
Before you open your mouth, think about what’s going to come out of it. Ask yourself, would a decent human being say what I’m about to say? If the answer is no, then don’t speak. If you’re unsure of whether or not your compliment could be taken the wrong way, then do. not. speak.
If you see someone sporting a stunning outfit and you think of something non-specific like “you look hot” – don’t speak. It’s not a compliment, more of a statement that will likely annoy them or even make them unnerved and anxious. If you’re a stranger, it can quite surely be said that they don’t care if you find them hot – you’ll probably just look creepy as hell.
When complimenting someone, specificity is key. Instead of shouting “you’re looking good” for example, walk up to someone politely and point out what it was you noticed about them – “I love your dress! The colour looks stunning on you!”. For all you know, you could be complimenting someone who was skeptical about that outfit before showing up to the party/going out for dinner/going to work. They could’ve spent hours deciding whether or not to wear the very thing you loved so much! Maybe people close to them don’t accept their fashion choices and you’ve gone out of your way to remind them that being who they are and wearing what they want is clearly working for them – go you!
Unless you know the person you’re complimenting well, don’t violate their personal space while you speak. Don’t play with their hair as you compliment it, for example – hopefully there’s no need to elaborate on that one.
Stay away from the word flattering. The word ‘flattering’ is arguably the most commonly used compliment when commenting on people’s outfits. Finding flattering clothing items has become the ultimate goal, especially according to traditional media, “wearing black slims you down, vertical stripes slim you down – or is that horizontal?”. Usually what we mean by ‘flattering’ is that the outfit makes you look slimmer and therefore better. We use it as a compliment, most of the time subconsciously, when we’re really implying that the best thing an item of clothing can do is create the illusion you are thinner than you actually are. It’s backhanded and that’s not OK.
Perhaps the most important part of your compliment is the setting in which you’re giving it. First picture you’re at a party, you’re all dressed up and celebrating a friend’s birthday. Someone comes up to you and says “wow, your shoes are so cool! I must get myself a pair!”. Nice, you’re feeling good about your shoes, you strike up conversation, what a lovely evening! Now. the party’s over, you’ve got no taxi fare so you’re hurriedly walking home late at night through an unknown part of town. Someone appears in the darkness rushing towards you, “wow, your shoes are so cool! I must get myself a pair!”- you’d probably think they’re trying to steal shoes right? You’d feel much more comfortable in the first scenario? Make sure the environment you’re giving compliments reflects the compliments you’re giving. The girl throwing up outside the nightclub isn’t bothered if you think her eyeshadow look compliments the colour of her dress – there’s a place and a time.
We’re not here to make complimenting someone this huge task – these little tips are just a friendly reminder to be thoughtful when talking to strangers. It’s simple; notice something stunning, be sincere and respectful, mind the environment you’re in, then shape your compliment accordingly.
People give compliments because we know how nice it is to be complimented and making someone else feel good makes us feel good. A genuine compliment is given out of love, appreciation or even awe, they’re not given for the sake of being complimented in return. Raj Raghunathan PhD explains that one of the reasons complimenting others makes you feel better is that it helps you to perceive yourself as a generous, bighearted person, which in turn increases your self-esteem.
But complimenting others isn’t a completely selfish act. Dr Alex Lickerman, shares that people who receive compliments are also more likely to give them – just like those who receive criticism are more likely to be critical. You can think of your compliments as a way of paying it forward and spreading positivity beyond yourself.
So now we can all go forth and confidently, and appropriately, compliment the outfits adorned by strangers that we see on our outings! Compliments are wonderful ways to strike up conversations or make the heart of a fashionable passer-by flutter. But not everybody needs or wants compliments. You don’t need to compliment people, a lot of us walk around already knowing we look absolutely bomb – we don’t need validation, but some respectful appreciation is welcomed.
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