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I have a half finished idea to present, in the hope that you might help me finish it off. Being no scientist, I have no desire to create double blind verifiable experiments to test my theories. Though actually, if you happen to be a PhD Psychology student, I imagine you could test this one quite easily if you were so inclined. Personally, I’d much rather watch Football Focus.

Back on track.

My notion is: people best respond to compliments that are in harmony with their mode of being.

That’s it

No really that’s it.

You want me to make more sense?

I guess I’d better use more words.

I was looking through my archives, at posts I’ve made before that have become relevant again, relearning lessons I should have never forgotten. I came across a comment from someone where they thanked me for leaving a comment on their blog, and told me that I had the effect of making them think.

Almost two years after that comment was made, it still makes me incredibly happy, and makes me believe that my writing was, is, useful. If even one person thinks as the result of my writing, I’ve done enough to make me content for the rest of my days. The use of the word think in that comment made me so happy.

Being a malcontent unable to just accept compliments and feel warm and fuzzy inside, I started thinking about it instead. What was it about this compliment that hit home so effectively for me? Why did this one, one amongst many, have such a powerful effect on me? Why this one as opposed to the many other comments I’ve received over the years?

And as you might surmise, I have an explanation: thinking is my mode of being. I am one of those people who Sir Ken Robinson might say, lived in their heads; and not in all of their heads: just the left half. I have a very thinking orientated approach to the world. My view of things is rational, organized, and based around critical reception: in short the skills that make up ‘critical thinking’ as a discipline. Other people have different modes of being.

Since you’ve followed the explanation thus far, I don’t need to join up all the dots for you to see the final picture. I’ve written it in my third paragraph. To paraphrase, for the sake of clarity and ambiguity: when you compliment someone in their mode of being, that compliment means more to them, is more meaningful to them, and will make them far happier, then a compliment that is made in any other mode of being.

Thinking compliments to thinking people will make them happier. Musical people will find musical compliments more apt to procure their delight. A person who planned everything immaculately to the last detail will not take as kindly to compliments about spontaneity. A person who is themselves very spontaneous, and therefore enjoys whirlwind moments will appreciate being told that you enjoyed their spontaneity or that a certain off the cuff idea was inspired. That is if my intuition is anything to go by, and very few people compliment me on my intuition :p.

A ton of basic questions are still unanswered. This is where you come in.

People don’t exist in one mode all the time, they have various moods, tones, categories of doing things, and it can be hard to map what mode a particular complimentary phrase relates to. How do we know what mode a word particularly relates to? And how can we guarantee that the person receiving it will categorize it in the same mode?

Of course this isn’t a zero sum game. All compliments exist on a continuum of modes. For example, being congratulated on your clarity relates to thinking, planning, preparation and ability to handle pressure. They may be aspects of your modes, attributes connected to your main mode, or attributes that form the penumbra of your prime mode.

Think of them like tags on a blog, one post can have multiple tags, and all posts categorized under one tag share at least something in common. It should be possible for us to find words that travel across a wide range of modes, depending on their emphasis, and emphasis is often supplied by the reader/listener than it is provided by the person conveying the message. Language has its limits.

A related and connected question, the Siamese twin of the first: how do you determine what mode people are predominantly in / what mode they are in now? They may be Rodin, or his famous statue, and it is important to differentiate them.

I think a part of it is experience, you get to know people and how they interact with the world, sometimes language can be a critical tool, depending on what words they use and how they use them, you can have a stab at identifying their mode. I imagine most of us have enough people reading skills to be within the right ball park within a few tries.

Or you could use a fallback position – spread your compliments across the modes, give compliments that vary in what the highlight, and keep an eye out for ones that develop special significance for that person. On the bright side even if you miss the reaction and only one in ten compliments is in their mode, those will be the ones that they remember as proof that you so totally understand them. It’s what psychologists call confirmation bias.