How to Compliment Someone Without Mentioning Their Looks


Image Courtesy of @delphinacarmona on Instagram

My yoga instructor is on maternity leave and depression has been doing its But don’t you just wanna stay under the covers? dance, as it annoyingly does. I ate more ice cream this summer than I have since ‘97 and on Day One of a recent vacation I was treated to 50+ bug bites on my butt. Which is all to say I’m not looking my best. 

That’s okay. Because my mother said she was proud of me for turning a snowglobe of childhood traumas upside down in therapy. My new boss noticed a skill I’m particularly proud of, a trait an old boss didn’t mention once. My favorite two-year-old whispered to me, unprompted, “I promise to love you forever.” 

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Feeling good physically and having someone compliment you on your looks, well, feels good. The problem is that women often receive more compliments about their earrings, eyebrows, and outfits than the aspects of humanness that really matter. What about our kindness, intelligence, bravery, anything that takes brains and guts and not a shopping spree?

Take a peek past the vitamin C serums and sea salt spray. We’re not what we look like; we’re how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, how we use courage to elbow our way through the hard decisions. “I love your boots” only goes so far. Thisfar, to be exact. “I love that you make time to visit your grandmother, that’s really thoughtful of you”—now that’s a compliment. 

We’re not what we look like; we’re how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, how we use courage to elbow our way through the hard decisions.

Brainstorm with me, will you? Think of the compliments below as a jumping-off point that you can tweak to fit the strong, kind, capable people in your life. Have something to add? Let’s make the comments section below the nicest comments section in the history of the Internet.

“You are so patient. I admire how you kept your cool in that meeting.”

Notice how someone reacts under pressure, whether that’s in a high-stakes work situation or wrangling a toddler in meltdown mode. Are they calm, take charge, unflustered? Tell them.

“Have I told you lately how kind you are? Thank you for bringing me coffee/picking up my shift/taking out the garbage/doing that unselfish, considerate thing.”

Kindness > everything.

“I am so proud of you for going to therapy/rehab/the gym. That takes a lot of courage.”

Hurling yourself off the scary and expensive cliff to better yourself can be a lonely process. Tell them you admire how they’re willing to commit to being uncomfortable.

“Has anyone ever told you that you make everyone feel welcome?”

Some people have the ability to make everyone around them instantly feel comfortable or loved or charming. What a gift.  

“I don’t know how you keep all those plants alive/can make broccoli taste so good/know how to work that wonky remote, but I appreciate it.”

Notice the little skills, the ones that make life easier. Is your friend a master at hosting a casual dinner party? Always parallel parks perfectly? On the first try? Tell them.

*Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh*

Be the best front row comedy show audience for their Fred Armisen impressions, juggling tricks, ability to remember Beanie Babies’ birthdays, or accuracy when guessing a celebrity’s astrological sign. Shoutout to my friend Jess, who has been serenading me with the Spanish version of Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle (or should I say Genio Atrapado?) for a decade and I still tear up laughing.

“Your kids are so lucky to have you as a parent. I love the way you listen to them/encourage their interests/embolden them to make good decisions.”

Parenthood is intrinsically intertwined with guilt. No way around it. An occasional compliment helps negate the feeling that you’re never going to do your kids justice. 

I’ve never thought of it like that. Thank you for giving me a new perspective!”

Try using this with the kiddos in your life, who really don’t need to hear how cute they are again.

“Thank you for encouraging a judgment-free zone. I feel safe to be myself around you.”

The highest compliment, no?

Now excuse me while I text everyone I know and get a little emotional thinking about all the generous listeners and excellent parallel parkers in my life. 

Comments are open. Let’s hear ‘em. 

BY Megan McCarty - October 4, 2019

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October 4, 2019 12:26 pm

My favorite: “You are one of the smartest people I know.”

Deanna Luchetti
October 5, 2019 2:40 am

I love this! Definitely going to keep these handy. I especially like the “I feel safe” one.

October 6, 2019 8:37 pm

Thank you for being the absolute best travel companion. For making our shared space feel safe for me to be MY NEUROTIC SELF IN. Thank you for inspiring me to journal, even if the writing isn’t good (cause journaling isn’t supposed to be good, that’s not what it’s for!), and for teaching me that “if I can do it in two minutes, I can do it now.” That single phrase changed my life. Yes, my darling, you are beautiful. But you are – and have always been – SO. MUCH. MORE. THAN. THAT. Thank you for reminding the rest of… Read more »

October 8, 2019 10:02 am

“Thank you for believing in me, I appreciate your support.”

I’d love to hear that one!

October 30, 2019 7:12 pm

One rule of thumb that my mother taught me as a teen is that if someone compliments me for appearance, outfits or anything really I respond with, “Thank you. I feel noticed and appreciated by you! You are so thoughtful and brave to say something.”

November 3, 2019 8:51 am

Thanks for these beautiful words!

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