There is strategy involved in giving and interpreting compliments.  Let’s say you hear someone play a difficult –but not too difficult– piece on the piano, and she plays it well.  Is it a compliment if you tell her she played it beautifully?

That depends.  You would not be impressed by the not-so-difficult piece if you knew that she was an outstanding pianist.  So if you tell her you are impressed, then you are telling her that you don’t think she is an outstanding pianist.  And if she is, or aspires to be, an outstanding pianist, then your attempted compliment is in fact an insult.

This means that, in most cases, the best way to compliment the highly accomplished is not to offer any compliment at all.  This conveys that all of her fine accomplishments are exactly what you expected of her.  But, do wait for when she really outdoes herself and then tell her so.  You don’t want her to think that you are someone who just never gives compliments.  Once that is taken care of, she will know how to properly interpret your usual silence.

In the world of blogs, when you comment on an article on another blog, it is usually a nice compliment to provide a link to the original post.  This is a compliment because it tells your readers that the other blog is worth visiting and reading.  But you may have noticed that discussions of the really well-known blogs don’t come with links.  For example, when I comment on an article posted at a blog like Marginal Revolution, I usually write merely “via MR, …” with no link.

That’s the best way to compliment a blog that is, or aspires to be, really well-known. It proves that you know that your readers already know the blog in question, know how to get there, and indeed have probably already read and pondered the article being discussed.

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