Writing that moves readers to action

Over the past week, I’ve been pondering the nature of the current workplace.  As clients, associates, and friends share their experiences within corporations, government agencies or non-profit settings, my mind reaches to identify words that might help capture and summarize those experiences.

What I hear is that these folks tend to work long hours to sustain an increased workload, and they continue to express concern that they do not believe they are compensated for the expanse of work and/or the level of expertise expected of them; yet, they appear to be “appreciated” which is conveyed to them via “kind” words.

As I listen and absorb, two words consistently blaze across my horizon – flattery and compliment.  These words are often deployed interchangeably.  So, they seemed worthy of a brief search to learn a bit more about their specific origin and their modern day definition and usage.  Below is some of what I surfaced…

  • com·pli·ment (ˈkämpləmənt/) (ˈkämpləˌment/
    • noun – a polite expression of praise or admiration.
      example:  “She paid me an enormous compliment.
    • verb – politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.
      example:  “He complimented Erica on her appearance.”

Origin = mid 17th century
–   LATIN = complementum = completion, fulfillment
–   ITALIAN = compliment = fulfillment of the requirements of courtesy
–   FRENCH (noun) = compliment = complimenter (verb)

  •  flat·ter·y (ˈflatərē/)
    • noun – excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one’s own interests.
      example:  “His healthy distrust of courtiers’ flattery…”

 Origin – 13th century
–   OLD FRENCH = flater “to flatter,” originally “stroke with the hand, caress,” from Frankish *flat “palm, flat of the hand” (see flat (adj.)). “[O]ne of many imitative verbs beginning with fl- and denoting unsteady or light, repeated movement” [Liberman].

While each word appears to have a slightly different twist in its definition, a few terms in each captured my attention:

  • “polite”
  • “fulfillment of courtesy requirement”
  • “excessive”
  • “insincere”
  • “caress”
  • “unsteady”

A bit curious and concerned about these defining terms, I searched to learn more about their social context and to ascertain how others might distinguish, interpret or explain differences between these two words – compliment vs. flattery.  Below is what I found:





Several captivating statements encased within these sites drew me in and continued my wondering:

  • “They have subtle differences which can be difficult to tell apart…”
  •  “Compliments seek to encourage; flattery attempts to manipulate.”
  •  “…flattery is always about the flatterer and compliments are about the “other” person.”

Sadly, for me, the comments and input shared by others did not vastly expand my knowledge nor make the challenge of discernment much clearer or easier.  I’m still plagued with the questions of how one might distinguish the difference between the two as well as what might be the most effective way to respond to either or both?

While this may be the first time I’ve actually invested time to research either of these words, my professional observations and my own experiences over the years provide some consistent data.  Given that, my suggestion is “receive graciously and acknowledge with caution.”

  •  Know the scope of work you’ve been selected and hired to perform – duties, necessary skills, job description, etc.;
  • Have conviction, confidence, and trust in the talents, skills, abilities, and successes YOU have and bring to the specific job/work (remember THEY hired YOU); and
  • Trust in the fact that acknowledging and saying “thank you” when given what sounds like a compliment or flattery is sufficient.  Nothing more is necessary.  If a specific duty or a new responsibility is requested, be sure that request and the specific duties are documented in some way – i.e. added to one’s job description or performance evaluation (and not just imposed upon you because you are “the best at crafting those spreadsheets.”

Dennis_The_Menace-3Or, as so eloquently expressed by Hank Ketcham, father of Dennis the Menace…

 “Flattery is like chewing gum.
Enjoy it but don’t swallow it.”

Believing in oneself – who you are, what you know, and what you’re capable of – helps align the feedback and keep it in the right perspective…and as shared during last week’s blog…isn’t it really “all in your perspective.”

Crafted, researched and written by:  | LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2014 EM Carlock

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