Want to pay a compliment to a workmate? It’s important to get the tone right or you could end up causing offence. Here’s a guide to help
By Ernest Richardson
When Donald Trump met France’s First Lady, Brigitte Macron, last week, his comments to her were regarded by many as distasteful. “You’re in such good shape,” he remarked, before turning to Mrs Macron’s husband, President Emmanuel, and repeating, “She’s in such good shape, isn’t she? Beautiful.”
Sportswear maker Reebok was quick to identify the social media potential of Trump’s awkward comments, and posted a flow chart online that highlighted their inappropriateness. Basically, it concluded, the only time it’s legitimate to utter the words, “You’re in such good shape. Beautiful,” is if you’ve just found a childhood toy that you thought you’d lost, and it’s done a good job of standing the test of time. You definitely shouldn’t say them if you’re addressing the wife of a fellow world leader.
So the world, not for the first time, was united in its sense that POTUS had spoken out of turn. But once the mickey-taking has subsided, the encounter raises an interesting question: is it ever appropriate to remark upon another person’s appearance?
In a workplace, this is a particularly tricky area. Most of us love to receive a compliment, and it would be a sad world indeed if people didn’t feel able to remark upon a colleague’s nice suit or new haircut. But when does a casual compliment become inappropriate? And how do you marshal the boundaries?
Here’s a five-step guide to help you discern when it’s appropriate to comment, and when you’d be better, as with Trump, to fermes la bouche.
1. Are you commenting on a colleague’s physical appearance?
If the comment that comes to mind concerns a colleague’s body, it’s best not to say it. Some people may be delighted that you think they’ve lost weight, or that their bottom looks nice in a particular outfit. But it’s probably not appropriate to voice such opinions in the workplace, even if it’s in the name of cheery banter, or perhaps even flirtation (of which more below). As Trump’s comments evidence, such remarks can very easily seem creepy, or downright weird. Best to avoid putting yourself in that position.
2. Could your comment be misconstrued?
We’ve all been there. You think you’re paying someone a compliment but actually it comes out as an insult. “Wow, you look so much younger now you’ve dyed your hair,” could be construed as, “You looked like an old git with those specks of grey in your hair.”
3. Are you telling the truth?
4. Would you be happy for your partner to hear you make the comment?
5. Is there a power dynamic in play?
You need to be mindful of the same dynamics in the workplace. If you’re in charge, your comments will have extra weight, and the standards of behaviour expected of you will be different. It’s a hackneyed old cliché, but you can’t be one of the gang if you’re the boss. If that means your compliments to staff are limited to encouraging comments about the quality of their work, that’s probably no bad thing.
© 2017 Just Recruitment Group Ltd.
Posted on Tuesday Jul 18