Compliments in the work place can be touchy. That is, thanks to the very bad behavior of a few, every office-worker in the world now knows that the people they work with are not their real friends, and you must therefore be very very very careful about who and what you compliment, and in what manner.

For the record: I am very glad that these standards and rules exist. Some people are compromised, bullied, or hurt by the people they work with and need to know what their options are. Some people have compromised, bullied, or hurt others, and need to know there are limits and there are consequences. I don’t mean to belittle the value of this education, only to comment on how it all plays out in my corner of the cubicle, where I am fortunate to work with an entire company-ful of very sweet, very respectful, if sometimes slightly awkward (but who isn’t at some point?) individuals.

Back to compliments. We even had a specific Compliments section in our company’s “Sexual NON-Harassment Training” where we talked about the kinds of compliments that are OK In The Workplace.

  • Nice Blouse” is a Great Compliment.
  • “You look so pretty in that blouse” should be reserved to people you know will Not Misunderstand Your Intentions.
  • That blouse is so hot, it makes me want to…….” Stop there.
    As our trainer helpfully pointed out to anyone who needed it, that kind of compliment is “NOT OK.”
    Neither are compliments immediately followed by Invitations. Of. Any. Kind.

Funny thing about that training session: I happened to be wearing a bright red-and-white polka dot dress that day, and had received many nice and funny comments from my male co-workers, ALL of which were taken as they were meant… compliments from work-friends. (“Cute dress… where’s Mickey?” “Goin’ on a picnic?” “Wow, you look ready for a party after work.” )

I also happened to be the only woman under 40 at that session. Guess who got the “f’rinstance” nod for ALL the examples. Guess who got sheepish shifty eyes from EVERY person in the room. Guess who received as many extended apologies as compliments AFTER the session.

Fortunately, the little blip of discomfort only lasted a couple of days or so, and now we have about 9 women in the office, 5 of which are certifiable “sweet young things.” The fellas are much more used to ladies in cute clothes these days, and the compliments we all swap on a daily basis. They don’t seem to worry so much about it anymore. Me? Like I said, I’m lucky enough to work with a lot of really sweet guys. I never worried about it.

In fact, I got a great compliment today from one of my software-slingin’ work buddies, and you know that made my morning!

“I think you must either have more clothes than anyone I know,
or else you have a million ways of putting them together differently.”

Sure, it’s no “Wow! You look so sophisticated, style savvy, ecologically responsible, and yet somehow carefree in that incredibly flattering outfit”…. but you can’t drum up that kind of review everyday. (Or ever.)

It’s not even one of the much more reliable, “Hey, that’s a nice dress,” drive-by compliments any lady in the northwest tech-biz can pretty much count on any time she forgoes slacks and a sweater for (gasp!) a dress.

(Thankfully, it’s also not one of those comments where the source, content, and intonation make it impossible to tell the actual emotional intent: “Hmmm. Those silver tights are really… out there! Yep, interesting. But then, you wear those kinds of things.”)

But “…a million ways of putting things together?” I’ll take it! Especially since it was elicited by a nothing more innovative than a brand new combination of basic elements I have worn many times. Nothing spectacular, or chic, or even terribly creative (which is usually the minimum qualification in the mornings). Just a new package of old ingredients that seemed ok at 8:30 ayem.

Sure, I do have a lot of clothes. But among the vintage dresses, collected costumes, out-there-fun-stuff, and patchy weekend clothes… well, actually the work-appropriate repertoire is pretty thin. I DO have to mix it up a bit, to keep from wearing the same 6 outfits and getting bored (that’s where the silver tights came in).

And you know what? I love that my work buddy noticed and then told me he noticed.

Thanks, man. I like your new sneakers, by the way. Very slick.


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