Random Forays: The art and science of paying compliments

Compliments which are meaningful and which emanate from the heart are rare these days, what with people falling over each other to praise their bosses or those who ‘matter’. Sycophancy has been quite the norm and an integral part of many professional circles for decades. Thus, many a compliment should be shrugged off by the recipient as being clearly aimed at his authority and influence rather than any intrinsic qualities which he possesses.

A station house officer (SHO) who heads a police station or an executive engineer (XeN) who heads a division can expect compliments to be flying into their air zones with unflagging regularity. The moment they receive their transfer orders, however, such words of praise and those who have been mouthing them would become as scarce as luscious mangoes in winter months. Similarly, the CXO of a corporate entity would surely have people in his team lapping up every idea that his mind generates.

False and inflated compliments are part and parcel of organisational credos, with very few hardliners being able to resist the temptation to fall in line. In fact, people in power often baulk at those who do not indulge in ‘chamchagiri’. The game of egos plays a big part in life as a whole, and definitely so when high level elevations or spoils of any kind are at stake.

But why continue to take potshots at the opportunist? This write up is also about the ‘how’ and not only the ‘why’ of complimenting others. There are those who are highly adept at bestowing compliments while others feel tongue tied and diffident when their moment comes!

Lovers learn this art pretty soon in their relationships, particularly men. They leave no stone unturned in praising to the skies, the looks or the voice or the choice of apparel of their muse. And such muses of course love the attention that they receive from new suitors, though sometimes an overdose of it can be quite off-putting for the young lady, if she is of the discerning variety.

Spouses usually fail to keep up the momentum though. All the songs of praise which had been sung with gusto in the halcyon days of honeymooning somehow disappear once life’s rough and tumble roller-coasters start becoming as overbearing as they usually are. Compliments inter se between spouses become as rare as warm quilts in summer months. The husband who regularly manages to praise his wife as the decades pass by, is truly a very visionary man. Wives need to reciprocate too. My wife, Neena, pays me an indirect compliment each time she reads my column, for example!

On the other hand, human love and genuine compliments do possess a synergetic bond after all, and if love sustains then so should words of appreciation. Taking the other for granted is clearly often the source of all friction in long term relationships.

The other thing about a kind word is that it can last for a long time. A teacher in school praised me fulsomely in front of the whole class once, and I treasure his words till today. Teachers and bosses should especially be trigger happy with compliments instead of being frugal, albeit when a recipient does indeed merit them.

In Haryana, I learnt during several public meetings, where I was on duty, that praise can often be misleading and even misdirected. Thus, the compere of an event where the chief minister (CM) would be the chief guest, would often go grossly overboard in praising the said dignitary to the skies. On one occasion, in fact, the gentleman with the microphone was so gushing and so excitable in his invitation to the CM to address the audience, that he actually named the previous CM instead of the current one, clearly a faux pas that was unpardonable. And of course the said gent was never to be heard on the stage ever again!

I myself have learnt the oblique and unique art of complimenting myself in some manner, each time I praise others. I don’t know exactly how I do it, but as soon as I discover the exact formula, I will gladly share it in these columns!

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