Unfortunately flattery has a bad reputation. It is seen as disingenuous and manipulative, even though it works sometimes. Using words of praise merely in order to get something from someone is morally questionable, but most people do it, or have done it. Although I belong in that group called 'most people', more often than not I use complimentary words to encourage people and to express genuine feeling.
When I tell my partner I think she looks beautiful, I mean it. Despite what she thinks of herself, she is beautiful to me and I tell her so. Everyone likes to receive compliments, and words of praise and gratitude. Words are much more powerful than most people realize. The only danger with compliments is that they can be unhelpful: just as damaging, potentially, as insults.
Both compliments and insults can distort our view of self. They can disguise lies as truth. We need to know ourselves and ensure we are honest and humble about who we are, what kind of people we are.
This week I gave my class an opportunity to express their opinion of their English course; the course, the school, the management, the facilities and naturally, the teacher. It was a writing assessment. They do one every week. I advised them to be honest and to use this as an opportunity to express any feelings they had, either good or bad. I also told them they would not receive lower grades for negative opinions or criticism.
The results were very illuminating. Some of their concerns I knew about, others I did not. Pleasing personally was the fact they were highly complimentary of me: both my personality and my methods. Earlier the same day, one of the senior managers popped in to see me, and he too was full of praise for the work I have been doing for the school since I started back in August.
I received all this praise, safe in the knowledge there is much upon which I can improve. Words of praise are certainly nice and encouraging and I am thankful for them, but I know myself. I know who I am, and I always carefully reflect on and evaluate my performance as a teacher. Self awareness and humility are crucial human faculties.
Flatter me or insult me: I know who I am. I know the truth about myself, and I am thankful for that.