‘Brrr! You Really Do Look Awful…’

Surrounded by insincere compliments from sales assistants and social media, a professional Life Coach questions how far we need to go to ensure the future of authentic acknowledgment.

© Sam Smith | Sussed Co.

I recently found myself in a makeup shop.   ‘My gaaaaahhhhd!!!’  Exclaimed the sales associate, pouncing at me with a holster of brushes.  ‘You have suuuuuucccchhhhhh AMAZING SKIN!!!!!!!’  – a comment which oddly occurred on a day where several hormonal chin volcanoes were at the point of eruption and my skin had the embalmed sheen and furrowed brow of a woman too long at her laptop… ‘Err… thanks.’ I replied, unconvinced, and left without a purchase.

It carried on. Last Saturday I was mooching around a multi-brand store I’m fond of but increasingly buy from online due to the predatory staff. That day was no different. A woman popped up from behind a wall like a ghoul on a ghost train. ‘I LOVE YOUR LOOK!!!’ She exclaimed. ‘LOVE IT!!!!!’ I said thank you and moved on, listening as she re-iterated the same phrase, in the same pitch, to the woman who came in behind me, and the one behind that.  

Flattery will get you nowhere. Isn’t that what they used to say? In retail, I’d have to agree because each time I’m confronted with contrived compliments I leave empty handed. The magic is gone. AND I’m annoyed because it feels like genuine compliments are devalued every time a fake one is used in an attempt to win a sale. Compliments, like so many other things in this orchestrated age, are starting to feel insincere and manipulated for gain.

When I was training to be a professional Life Coach I learned that one should complement or acknowledge what people do rather than how they appear. I contested this at the time for it wasn’t who I felt I was. ‘I not going to stop telling people I like their hair.’ I thought stubbornly, ‘I can acknowledge what they do and how they look.’ And I continue to do so, I always have, albeit aware now that the value of my aesthetic compliments might be lowered if they land on a day when three salespeople have said the same thing.

So how can we ensure our genuine compliments are regarding as such?  When so much flattery is being emitted by others to boost their commission or profiles?

When it came to writing a new series of short stories (my coaching books combine self-awareness, perspective and confidence boosting strategies with storytelling) I decided to write in a character intent on proving her compliments were real. This is how she’s shaping up;

‘Brrrr! Look at you!’ chirped Barbara with a grimace, poking her head around the door. ‘You really do look awful Arabella… get some sleep… or food… or just go home…
Barbara was Arabella’s secretary. She both preferred the nostalgic allure of calling herself a ‘secretary’ and the inclusion of cuttingly direct verbal observations. ‘That way you know that my compliments are compliments and not marketing.’ She would say. ‘The contrast says it all.’ Arabella had to agree she had a point…


Q: Should we reduce our complementary output to compensate over exposure from the insincere?

Q: Should we balance our genuine compliments with less kind critical opinion to ‘prove’ our sincerity?

Q: Should we only ever compliment on what people do rather than how they look?

I think no.

I think authenticity is the word these days, and creepy compliments reek of inauthenticity. The truth will prevail and it’s easy to tell when someone means it or when they’re just marketing. A genuine compliment can make someone’s day, and in this age of heightened anxiety and low self-esteem that’s no bad thing. And don’t forget, that hairdo took some styling in the morning – and when you leave home having roused, fed, and dressed children, collated homework assignments and inserted them in the right backpacks, not fallen over abandoned toys, picked up abandoned socks, soaked oatmeal encrusted pans so you won’t spend your evening chipping them clean, and still managed to get a brush through your hair and over your teeth, and unplug the curling iron at the end of it all, then YES you deserve that compliment.  

Suss the Symmetry‘ by Sam Smith is out now on

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