How to Increase Your Personal Power With Authentic Compliments


Leadership experts agree that to truly influence a team, your coworkers, and your superiors, you must possess “personal power.” However, tangible guidance on how to obtain personal power has been greatly lacking. For example, a management guru might tell you “everyone needs to increase their personal power,” and then continues by showing the class how utilize “we/us” language.

Yet communication experts agree that this is a one-way tactic and that “listening” is a far more important skill to master than just trying to phrase everything in an inclusive manner. I have found that “authentic compliments” are an excellent method of communication that has the ability to increase your influence with your coworkers, and improve your personal power.

In 1959, two social psychologists (French and Raven) defined five categories of power:

  • Legitimate or Positional: power of a manager over a subordinate
  • Referent: power based on relationships
  • Expert: power derived from skills or expertise
  • Reward: power dependent upon bestowing prizes or accolades
  • Coercive: power gained using negative influence

Most government employees have little personal control over their position to preside over others, as well as the rewards or punishments they can dish out to illicit support from coworkers. Moreover, in our current economy, it might be nearly impossible to justify additional training for the sole purpose of improving your personal power. However, the remaining category, referent power, is a huge opportunity for expanding your personal influence. Referent power is more succinctly defined as when the subject complies because (s)he “admires or identifies with the agent and wants to gain the agent’s approval,” and is tied with expert power for the most effective way to get someone to truly commit to your goal.

Dale Carnegie pointed out that to “Win Friends and Influence People” you should encourage other people to talk about themselves and talk in terms of the other person’s interests. However, the next level of that relationship-building combination is to compliment that person using his or her own language and at a depth and level that is meaningful to them. This will, effectively, make your praises “authentic” because you are talking to the person on their level Let us look at some examples:

  1. “Hey, your kid is an Eagle Scout? Wow!”
    “It must take a lot of effort to earn such a prestigious award. Congratulations to you both.”
  2. “Your desk is really clean!”
    “You are such an organized person and I really wish I had that quality.”

On the surface, each of the above statements appear to be a compliment, but when you change the focus from an observation to a personal connection with the other person, you are acknowledging their value and building a deeper relationship. The final compliment even uses an additional technique from Carnegie; admitting your own faults. Thus, through humility and appreciation you are creating a more valuable connection with that employee, and thus building your referent power.

But Don’t Try To Fake It…

Psychologists call this technique Unconditional Positive Regard (or UPR), and they caution that it does not mean that you like the person, or approve of their behavior. Rather, what you are doing is recognizing the individual and their right to personal freedom. -Remember, you are intentionally addressing their interests. This means that it can be utilized with your best friend at the agency, or the “office troll” that enjoys gossip more than work. However, Psychologists caution that UPR is an “attitude” you must achieve and it will only work if you truly believe in the technique you are applying; you cannot fake it.

Nevertheless, you will find that, as soon as you start to use this technique, it will quickly become natural, and you will be looking for new observations to make about your colleagues. Best of all, are actually making yourself and those around you better authentic leaders. Because this technique recognizes and acknowledges the genuine traits in others, you are reinforcing the importance of authentic leadership and directly connecting it to the agency’s mission or services. For example, if your boss came into work this morning and said “I really value the amount of personal effort you put into the Smith Project. Having your talents for customer service and your desire to launch this program under budget really made the project a success.” That empowering statement would certainly build a stronger level of commitment with your boss and might even encourage you to take on more responsibility in the future.

If you would like more information on how to compliment at work, I recommend this extensive article from the Art of Manliness. It provides a very detailed process on compliments and how they can help bolster your career and your personal power.

How have you used this technique (or one like it) to help build your relationships at work?

Daniel Hanttula is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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