"Hey, I must be losing my mind," he said. "I keep hearing these voices saying nice things, and there's not a soul in here but us."
"It's the peanuts," answered the bartender.
"Say what?" replied the man in disbelief.
"You heard me," said the barkeep. "It's the peanuts . . . they're complimentary."
(Hmm. I should probably apologize for that. But let's talk about compliments.)
Fulton Sheen once said, "Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true, and blarney is flattery so thin we love it." I'm not talking about baloney or blarney, but rather about sincere compliments and power they can have.
Eleanor Roosevelt never remembered being complimented by her mother. Anna was deeply disappointed in her daughter's looks and demeanor. She often called young Eleanor "Granny." To visitors, she would say, "She is such a funny child, so old-fashioned that we always call her Granny."
"I wanted to sink through the floor in shame," an older and wiser Eleanor later recalled.
In a similarly harsh vein, Anna sometimes admonished her young daughter, "You have no looks, so see to it that you have manners." Yet through it all, Eleanor forever wanted her mother's approval. But it wasn't to be, for Anna died at the age of 29, when her daughter was only eight.
What could it have been like for little Eleanor if her mother shamed less and complimented more? Sincere compliments and acts of appreciation have the power to transform. We often remember them for years and they have a proven way of influencing future behavior.
Using compliments wisely was one of the secrets of the phenomenal success of Mary Kay Ash (of Mary Kay Cosmetics). "Everyone wants to be appreciated," she often said, "so if you appreciate someone, don't keep it a secret." Likewise, Mark Twain famously said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." That probably goes for most of us.
What's a GOOD compliment? It's one that is both sincere and timely. Insincere flattery is false. It patronizes at best. But a sincere compliment is a heart-felt expression of appreciation. And when said in the right way at the right time, it has the power to call forth something beautiful in another.
One man changed his life by learning how to offer a simple compliment. "I never let a day go by without giving at least three people a compliment," he says. He challenges others to give it a try. Since adopting this exercise, he says he has discovered an extraordinary response from other people. He adds that he is experiencing a growing appreciation for the various people in his life.
I have begun practicing the exercise myself. I am discovering that few things can so quickly change a relationship as the right word said at the right time. And what's more, surprising someone with a compliment can be a fun thing to do.
Besides -- you can't always depend on the peanuts to be complimentary.