by Risa Green
I have a somewhat reserved personality, and I will admit that this does not always make it easy for people to get to know me. In the past, women (who are now my good friends) have told me that when they first met me, they felt that I was cold, and kind of bitchy. Which, in my defense, I’m not (or at least, not always). I’m just not initially a super warm and fuzzy kind of person, and it doesn’t help that my mouth naturally turns down, causing me to perpetually frown as I go about my business, even if I’m perfectly happy. (And also causing construction workers and many annoying, uber-happy strangers to command me to “Smile!” as I walk down the street.) But it’s always bothered me, this perception I give off of being a bitch, and so recently, I’ve decided to try to do something about it.
In an effort to Seem Nicer, my New Year’s resolution this year was to give more compliments to people, whether it’s strangers, acquaintances or good friends. Now let me clarify – I’m not talking about giving people fake compliments. I don’t believe in telling someone that they look great when they really look like they haven’t slept in a month, or in telling someone that I love their shoes when I wouldn’t be caught dead in them. It’s condescending, and people know when someone is feeding them a load of crap. And let’s remember, my goal here is to come off as less bitchy, not more. Instead, what I am talking about is giving people real, genuine compliments. Because the truth is, I think nice things about people in my head all the time, I just don’t always verbalize them. I’ve tried to think about why this is, and I’ve only been able to come up with two reasons: 1) Sometimes, especially when I’m dealing with people at checkout counters or cashiers, I just don’t have time to get into conversations, so I keep my mouth shut and move along, and 2) sometimes it just doesn’t occur to me that the other person might actually want to hear what I think about their hair/outfit/jewelry/shoes, etc. But when I really considered this, I realized that it’s totally ridiculous. Of course people want to hear what I think if what I think is nice. Who doesn’t like getting a compliment? And so I decided that from that point on, whenever I think something nice about someone, I’m going to tell them. Plain and simple.
Well, let me just say that I am now six months into this resolution, and I am like, the nicest person ever. Seriously, I can’t believe that I haven’t been doing this my entire life. You would not even believe how people respond. Of course, my friends love it, and keep asking what’s gotten into me. But it has the greatest effect on new people. When I meet someone new, it’s a total ice breaker. I can tell that they’re sizing me up, that they’re thinking, what’s her deal? Why is she frowning like that? Is she a bitch? Is she judging me? And then bam!, I bust out with a wow, you have the most gorgeous skin, or an OMG, your earrings are stunning, and then they smile, and they say thank you, and sometimes they tell a little story about how the earrings were a gift for some special occasion, or how they just switched to a new moisturizer, and not only do we have an instant topic of conversation, but I also know that a checkmark has just been placed next to my name in the SO NICE column in this person’s head.
With total strangers, too, I’ve found that it’s worth the extra time to pay a compliment. It just feels really good to go out of my way to give someone an unexpected little boost, and I like how they smile, as if they appreciate that someone has taken the time to notice them, instead of treating them like just another cog in their wheel of daily transactions. So if I’m paying for something and the cashier has really great hair, I’ll tell her. Or if I’m at the airport and the security woman has fabulous looking nails, I’ll let her know I think so. I’ve realized, however, that I have to draw my compliment line at people with whom I’m having some sort of interaction. Once or twice I complimented a total stranger who was standing in line next to me somewhere, and that just felt unnecessary, and even a little weird.
But the most memorable compliment I ever gave was a few months ago, when I was at a charity dinner. A woman who was being honored gave a really moving speech that brought me to tears. When she was finished, she happened to walk by my table, and I reached out to tap her on the arm, and to tell her how much I enjoyed listening to her. She seemed to genuinely appreciate it, and admitted that she had been so nervous, and wasn’t sure if the speech had made sense, and so she was glad to know that it went over well with someone who didn’t know her. When she left, my husband looked at me, shocked. That was so nice of you, he said. And so unlike you. I told him about my resolution, and then I told him that I thought he looked particularly handsome in his suit. He kissed me on the cheek, and said that he hoped I’d stick with it. And I will.