Q: Co-workers complain that I give backhanded compliments. What does this mean and how can I stop it?
Dr. Cindy Adams
A: A backhanded compliment is an insult in disguise. For example, "I can't believe you finally caught a missed fee," is a negative
statement compared to, "Great job on catching that missed fee." It's a subtle difference that can mean a lot, says Cindy Adams,
MSW, PhD, a veterinary communication professor at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. If your co-workers
aren't thankful for your praise, you may want to re-evaluate how you give them compliments.
"Sometimes, without intention, there's a mismatch between what we say and how we say it," Adams says. "For a compliment to
have the impact that you want, be specific. Focus on the observed behavior and describe the benefits." If a co-worker worked
late last week, thank her and say, "You're such a critical part of the team. Your willingness to go the extra mile around
here makes this a great place to work." By being descriptive, your sincerity is hard to miss.
But that doesn't mean co-workers will always be receptive. You can't control their reactions. Maybe your compliments weren't
the exact ones they wanted to hear, or maybe they're in bad moods. That's not your fault. All you can do is be aware of your
tone, your body language, and your words, Adams says.