When is a compliment more than a compliment?
In this piece on Good Morning America ABC reporter Deb Roberts interviewed groups of older and younger workers to explore age differences in perspectives regarding the appropriateness of compliments on the job and the #MeToo issue.
A young woman said, “Any comments you give me, I want them to be related to my work.”
An older man shared his experience complimenting a woman for her appearance and worried if that in today’s me too climate it might be considered offensive. Anther older man said that compliments about how a person looks are important, adding, “Sometimes a compliment is just a compliment. Is it my fault if your perception is wrong?”
The young woman disagreed with the older men, and the debate continued without resolution.
Roberts observed that, “this new reality is a bit complicated, especially between the two generations,” concluding that there was an age difference, but noted that the two groups could not agree and that there were considerable implications for workplace relationships.
What Roberts and ABC producers missed completely was that these people were confusing generation, gender and personality, only adding confusion and reinforcing the perception of gender or racial bias.
The young woman displayed behavioral cues consistent with the Kahler Personality type called Thinker. Relatively few facial expressions, horizontal lines on the forehead, monotonic speech, perceives the world through the filter of thoughts, uses logical and factual sentence structure, and most importantly, focuses on performance and work. Thinkers are specifically motivated by recognition of work, so it’s no surprise that this woman would prefer that type of compliment and be turned off by other types.
The older man displayed behavioral cues consistent with the Kahler type called Harmonizer. Smile lines around the eyes, softer more friendly tone, and open gestures. Harmonizers are motivated by recognition of person and sensory, so they thrive on genuine appreciation for who they are as a person, including appropriate compliments about their appearance.
They are both right. They both deserve to be complimented according to what matters to them. And they both are likely to offer others the type of compliment that they prefer. That’s The Golden Rule.
Demographic research shows that 25% of the population is primarily Thinker type, and 75% of these Thinkers are men. This makes the 25% of Thinker women (who appropriately need to be recognized for their work and time structure only) a minority. Similarly, 30% of the population are Harmonizers but only 25% of them are men, who appropriately need to share personal compliments and friendships at work, making Harmonizer men a minority group.
Roberts interviewed a guest expert, Joanne Lipman, about her book, That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell them) about working together. She highlighted the double-bind or triple-bind women experience when they are part of another underrepresented group, like being a black or Hispanic woman.
Being a black woman is a double-bind. Being a black woman Thinker in America is a triple-bind. Being a black male Harmonizer in America is a triple-bind.
An audience poll revealed that 61% of people believed compliments on appearance were appropriate in the workplace.
Personality strongly influences how people communicate, how they perceive the world, and how they are motivated. My conclusion is that until we elevate personality as a significant driver of identity and potential discrimination, we will continue to be confused about what’s going on.
One thing Roberts got right was her conclusion that compliments may be OK, but it all depends on HOW it’s done. That’s the essence of the Process Communication Model (PCM®); it’s not what you say, but how you say it that often makes all the difference.
PCM teaches six Kahler Personality Types. We’ve trained thousands of people how to recognize and communicate respectfully with all six. What we’ve found is that when people use adaptive communication skills, complaints about gender, racial, or other bias drop considerably.