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Most of us put a lot of thought, time, and effort into the way we look. When people notice, it feels great, or at least, it can feel great. Compliments are surprisingly tricky: they can make you feel objectified or appreciated, valued or condescended to. It turns out that telling someone you like the way they look isn’t as easy as it seems, and if you get it wrong you can not only fail to make someone feel beautiful, but actually insult them. Want some help? Click the style notes for fool proof steps to a perfect compliment. –– Laura Martin

Be sincere. I know, but seriously. If what you’re thinking is, “I like that dress, but it doesn’t fit you,” don’t compliment it. It’s always better to say something honest, even if it’s small. Admiring someone’s nail polish or lipgloss shows that you notice them and probably means more than you would think.

Be specific. “You look pretty” doesn’t mean as much as “I love how your new hair color brings out the green in your eyes.” When saying something nice it’s easy to just blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind, but it makes your words less impacting. Take a minute and say exactly what you mean.

Make it about them. The best compliments are ones that are tailored to the the person you are complimenting and reveal something about who they are, not just how they look. For example, telling some that their new blonde shade is “pretty and playful” or that their new dress is “just so you!” shows an appreciation for who they are, not just how they look.

Special thanks to Laura Martin for this post. Laura is a professional hair stylist, former senior educator at ARROJO cosmetology school, and a creative non-fiction MFA student at Georgia College, Milledgeville, GA

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