Don’t Compliment Your Coworkers

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Lots of HR people wonder if you should avoid talking about religion and politics at the office. I don’t shy away from much in life. I am a big believer in sharing your point of view. Speak directly. Have an opinion. That’s what makes the world more interesting.

You know what you shouldn’t do? Try to compliment a colleague. People don’t know how to express polite and genuine affection — and what comes out is a mash-up between awkward praise and hyper-personal observations. Most of the time, your efforts make you seem rude and insensitive.

How do I know this? I don’t even have coworkers and I’ve heard some of the stupidest statements during the past year.

Let’s take a walk down my memory lane of 2010.

  • You’re not as tall as I thought you would be, I mean, it’s okay — but wow you are really short. I get this all of the time when I meet someone in real life. I never say, “You’re smellier than I thought you would be, I mean, wow, really.” Maybe I should.
  • I didn’t know you like to look pretty at conferences. I actually asked the woman, “Is that supposed to be a compliment?” She said yes and tried to explain herself. Didn’t help. I responded, “Okay, that’s enough.” I think she had been drinking. Strike that: I know she had been drinking.
  • Wow, your last name is awful — but thankfully it’s easier to say than spell. Don’t you work in HR? Where’s your commitment to diversity? Maybe I should just change my last name to Smith to make your life easier.
  • I heard you just turned 50. You look great. Wow, okay, I didn’t just turn 50. I posted a Molly Shannon video on my Facebook wall — but it’s nice that you’re sorta paying attention to me. And way to be passive aggressive.
  • Wow, is everything okay? You want to talk? You look tired. You’ve seen me two times in my entire life. How do you know what my version of tired looks like?
  • I like your blog but it’s kind of light & superficial. Oh, right, because you read Russian Literature — without the English translation. Got it.
  • It’s really great that you like cats. I admire how you’ve fostered and rescued kitties. I just think it’s a bit much for my taste. That’s fair. It’s totally appropriate for you to weigh in on how I choose to spend my time and what I chose to love.
  • You’re like the matriarch of this industry. I just heard this one in Vegas. The guy meant to say that I’m powerful, but he unintentionally compared me to Miss Ellie Ewing. Although the comparison to a matriarch is valid because I’m an old woman who lives in the south and reigns over my family with an iron fist.

So here’s the deal, peeps. When speaking to professional colleagues, be courteous and thoughtful. Talk about politics until the cows come home but avoid comments about age, appearance, and state-of-being. When you screw up, you screw up big. It’s tough to watch and I am sick of assuming good intent. Especially when I’m not sure it’s there, yo.

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