Giving Compliments When You Have Social Anxiety Disorder

Compliment graffiti.
Compliments should be sincere. Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures / 18043 Images

Compliments are less likely to be given by people who suffer from social anxiety than those who are naturally comfortable in social situations. However, by learning the rules of giving good compliments, and putting them into practice daily, you can become just as adept at giving praise.

Giving compliments is an important social skill to learn because it is a great way to start conversations, develop social bonds and reduce anxiety about communicating.

9 Steps to Giving Great Compliments

  1. Don't give out compliments randomly. You should genuinely believe the compliment or it will come across as insincere.
  2. Give specific rather than general compliments. Instead of "Your kitchen looks great," say something like, "Your kitchen looks great, I really like your new cabinetry and hardware."
  3. Just as in receiving compliments, giving compliments helps you start a conversation. You might add in, "Where did you get the cabinets from" or "Who installed your kitchen?"
  4. Consider the setting and your relationship with the person to make sure that the compliment is appropriate. Comments of a personal nature should only be offered to close friends in private settings.
  5. Use creative and unusual words instead of everyday ones. Which would stay with you longer—"Your new dress is really nice" or "Your new dress is fabulous! I love the fabric, it is really eye-catching!"
  6. Take opportunities to compliment character traits rather than appearance, as these types of compliments are rarely heard. For example, compliment a mother on her compassion for her children or a teacher on his ability to keep students motivated.
  7. Be willing to give constructive criticism. Compliments mean more when the other person knows that you aren't afraid to also be honest about faults.
  8. Don't be afraid to compliment people in authority. People in power tend to receive fewer compliments and you might be pleasantly surprised at the response you receive—the person will probably welcome the positive feedback.
  9. When complimenting someone with low self-esteem, it may be better to avoid inflated praise and to compliment behavior rather than personal characteristics. Research has shown that when children with low self-esteem are given inflated praise or praise about their personal characteristics, it tends to backfire, making them worry about future failures or avoid future challenges.

Once you have mastered the art of giving compliments, you may find that you are also better at gracefully receiving compliments. Remember, whether giving or receiving, compliments should always be a positive experience.

Research on Compliments and Social Anxiety Disorder

In one small study of 17 individuals with generalized social phobia, it was shown that those with the disorder had physiological reactions to negative comments (criticism) but not to positive or neutral comments. While you can't control what others say to you—why not consider controlling what you say to yourself?

Negative thoughts are not that different from criticism from others.

Think of it this way: every time you think a negative thought about yourself, you are potentially causing yourself distress.

Instead, try thinking positive or neutral thoughts about yourself to promote better emotional stability and well-being. Catch yourself every time you have a negative thought about yourself, and replace it with a positive or neutral one. While at first, this might feel awkward, over time it will become more automatic.

1 Source
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  1. Blair K, Geraci M, Devido J, et al. Neural response to self- and other referential praise and criticism in generalized social phobiaArch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(10):1176-1184. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.10.1176

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.