Recently, I gave a series of the most thoughtless-sounding compliments in the history of compliments. They were regarding something deep and meaningful - a friend's hair.

This friend had cute, long brown hair. She dyed it platinum blonde for the new season, and I secretly wasn't fond of the change. However, I dutifully approached her and said, "I like your hair!" She gave me a recap of her hair-dying experience and that was that.

A few months later, I saw this friend once again sporting dark brunette locks. Inwardly, I cheered the change. I told her that I really liked her hair, adding that I'd never loved the blonde.

Walking away, I realized how dumb and fake my hair praise had sounded. I had just admitted that my initial compliment was, indeed, insincere. Now, this friend will probably doubt the sincerity of whatever future compliments I toss her way.

Sometimes, in our longing to connect with someone, we blurt out silly, hurried compliments. After a while, our friends or acquaintances may wonder if we're really thinking about what we're saying. They may be skeptical of our sincerity.

Our kids, too, crave genuine, thoughtful praise. When your child comes home with an A in a challenging subject or performs a beautiful dance recital, it's important to express sincere approval. A distracted, "Good job, honey," doesn't really reflect the hard work your child has put into the task.

How can we share meaningful compliments that reflect upon the person we're addressing? Here are a few ways.

1. Praise the person, not just her stuff

"Cute shoes," or shirt, or bag is something that typically slips out of my mouth. This praise can be taken a step further to praise the person by adding, "You have such a good eye," or, "You put things together so well." Or try, "You have an amazing sense of style." Now the compliment is more personal. It touches upon the person and not just her shoes.

2. Follow up with solid reasons for your admiration

Again, "Good job," isn't all that complimentary. Delivered alone, it's a generic, rote expression that sounds flat.

When your son wins his tennis match, let him know why he did such a marvelous job. "You worked so hard for this. Your backhand was stellar. You kept your focus. I'm proud of you."

Praising our kids won't spoil them. They crave our genuine attention and positive feedback. When we tell them why they did such a great job, they know that we're really paying attention.

3. Pay compliments that recognize improvement

The most meaningful accolades congratulate people on progress in areas in which they're insecure.

If your friend has weight challenges and has recently lost a few pounds, congratulate her. If your daughter works hard to improve her sagging grades, cheer her on.

Such solid compliments help the receiver know that we're mindful of their challenges and that we recognize their progress. We show our admiration and goodwill.

Psychologist George W. Crane said, "Appreciative words are the powerful force for good on earth."

"Cute haircut," sounds OK, but we can always deliver something better. When we regularly pay weak, flat compliments, we reveal shallow thinking. And our friends and family members might start to disregard our words or doubt our sincerity.

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