Counselling in Wokingham – Compliments

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Some years ago, I used to play tennis regularly – and rather badly. On one occasion I somehow found myself on the same court as a qualified coach and after the expected and conclusive defeat I asked him for some tips to improve my game.

compliment1I got what I asked for, I suppose, but what he did was to tear my game apart piece by piece – my feet, my grip, my swing, my body position, and many other elements of my play were dissected and criticised. I had tips all right, probably twenty or thirty of them, but I was left feeling completely deskilled and utterly confused. He had given me so many things to think about that my head was spinning. What I should have asked for, I suppose, was “one tip” rather than “some tips”.

When we learn stuff, we learn it a bit at a time. I couldn’t go from being a casual tennis player to Wimbledon Champion in a week. We can’t become fluent in a language in a few hours. We can’t go from being able to add a few numbers to solving differential equations without learning a lot of stuff in between.

We have to go in small steps, and steps which make sense for us as individuals – not everybody’s steps are the same. I might find it a lot easier to improve my forehand than my backhand. Reminding myself to watch the ball might be quite easy but putting my feet in the right places could require a lot of practice. Others will find the opposite is true for them. So for learning to be at its most effective – most efficient – it needs to be personalised, though of course that is not always practical.

What got me thinking about all this was a conversation with a client who was talking about compliments. She said that her partner paid her lots of compliments, but they didn’t seem to mean much to her. They were the wrong compliments.

compliment3Just as we need to learn in small steps that are personal to us, I think compliments, if they are to mean anything, need to be personal and believable. The best compliments are small and personal. If a compliment is too big, it is not believable. Suppose I cook a meal and am told that it tastes good. I can believe that, and it is a nice compliment. If I am told that I am the best chef in the whole world, I am more likely to feel that this is a sarcastic remark than a genuine compliment. It is too big – it is unbelievable.

Equally, A compliment has to mean something to me. If I am told that I am really good at doing the washing up, I am likely to think “so what?” or to see it as an attempt to manipulate me into doing the washing up more often, rather than to read it as a genuine compliment.

Howling wolfCompliments are nice, but sometimes they are more than that – they can make our hearts leap. A friend of mine is a keen artist, a skill she has learn – is learning – late in life, and she told me about a great compliment that her husband paid her. She had done a drawing of a wolf, and he told that her on looking at it that he wanted to reach out and stroke the wolf’s fur. My friend described this as a real wow! moment for her, and I think the reason was that, as well as being personal and believable, this compliment also carried a third element – it was aspirational. By that I mean that the compliment, unprompted, matched her hopes – it affirmed that she had achieved something she was aiming for – something she’d really hoped for – in her picture.

We don’t always know where we’re trying to go – until someone tells us we’re there!

About Paul Cockayne

Counsellor, musician, iPhone developer, games-player, cheese-lover....
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