The compliment experiment

Compliments mean a lot – but I didnt realise how powerful they can be. Read on to find out how I experimented with compliments and had a phenomenal teaching experience.

When I ran a business (custom dresses) I had fun sending compliments with my parcels just because I was having fun with the ‘with compliments’ phrasing. I wrote littie compliments on patterned paper and slipped it into the folds of the dress I had made for them. I made the compliments fun and silly but all of them had a focus of making the customer feel good.

I even found out much later that some people loved them so much that they slipped them into their wallets as a happy daily affirmation!

Do you know the adage that people will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel? Well, what if we concentrated on the feelings more?

Once I ran a compliment experiment with a group of year 9s. I asked a colleague to sit in to help document it – and here is how it went:

Start of the lesson: I began with a compliment. The only rule I gave myself was that it had to be genuine.

Once I had set the students up with the activity, I walked around the room and quietly shared personalised compliments with each student. (Not in any order – just as the opportunities genuinely occurred).

Then a magic thing happened. The students started to compliment each other too. The compliments were growing exponentially.

I didn’t share the experiment with the students. They didn’t know it was my mini inquiry into positive affirmations and the effect on student engagement and, at the end of the lesson, both my colleague and I were stunned at how powerful the little compliments had become. All students were engaged, all students were happily sharing their work with each other and even the less confident students were completing the task with more enthusiasm than usual.

What an amazing thing to have experienced. The buzz was tangible.

So maybe we should forget the feedback sandwich sometimes. Maybe what we all need is just to be seen and have our buckets filled up. Compliments can be catchy.

In an adult workshop recently I ran a scavenger hunt bingo board activity and, just for fun, one of the squares was, ‘pay someone else in the room/zoom a compliment’ – and when they did it I could see people’s faces change and light up.

So compliments can be silly and you can use them as a prompt in a game for social interactions too but the true power of a compliment could be more than we think. It could be a feeling about learning that they carry with them into the future.

Once I even had a ‘choose a compliment for yourself’ option in a google form just to make it a bit more fun. Obviously in class the conpliments would be a bit more content/skill specific.

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