The Ultimate Compliment

I once worked for a software company that was acquired by a larger company. In the first few months following the acquisition, I noticed something interesting. My new manager, who had been at the larger company for many years, started saying things in meetings along the lines of, “What I learned from Karen is the following…” What he then said resembled something I had shared with him, yet translated into the language of the new company. It sounded so much more impressive than what I had originally told him.

By rephrasing my words, this manager taught me to how to speak more effectively, using the right lingo and phrases to tie my thoughts into the strategic direction of the company, its culture and values, and its past successful initiatives. What a gift!

He also demonstrated a great deal of respect for me in front of my new colleagues. The simple phrase of “What I learned from Karen” made me feel great; who wouldn’t want to be recognized for teaching their more experienced manager something new. I think it was the ultimate compliment.

Since then, I’ve done my best to use that simple phrase in my leadership and parenting. For example, I recently exchanged email with someone I worked with a long time ago. In my email, I wrote,

One thing I learned from you is the importance of prioritization. At the time, you were a product manager who received more voice mail than you could possibly return. You told me how you strategically decided which messages to answer. To this day, I still think of you whenever I consciously decide not to do something. Thank you for inspiring and enabling me to do so!

As you might imagine, she was touched and wrote back,

I remember you absolutely and what a tremendous compliment you shared with your memory of me. I’m honored.

I learn from people around me every day, and I’m so grateful to be surrounded by talented family, friends, and professional contacts. I should thank them and compliment them more than I do. So, one of my resolutions for 2013 is to use the phrase, “What I learned from so-and-so is….” at least twice a week, either at home or at work. I’m hoping it will then become a life-long habit.

Have you made resolutions that apply to both parenting and leadership? I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2013,


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Compliment

  1. Wow! I agree and love this! My husband has a way of improving what I said. I’ll listen and think “I said that? It sounds pretty insightful.” Great tip on using that with parenting. why not tell our kids things we learn from them? I’m going to make a point today to do that.

  2. Karen – what a great compliment to you by your manager. Too often we get in situations where a manger will drop some contrived compliment because their most recent managerial or supervision class says they should. We can not ever take too much time to validate and encourage others, no matter what our lateral connection is within our business relationships. I take great pleasure in sending encouraging e-mails to those who serve a need in my life. Just because they are expected to do their job does not mean we cannot use the moment to share Christ’s love.

  3. A wonderful approach. I love the wording in how you praise the complement. Further, it also applies not only to managers but also to peers as well. People like to hear that you are hearing and appreciating their views publicly and you are humble enough to learn from them. In our competitive culture, we do not do this enough. This approach both lets others know that you are valuing their contribution and also lets other understand how much people, whatever their position, rank, relationship to you may contribute to our common understanding and teach us something. It really breaks down barriers. It also helps later when disagreements arise between parties because both sides know that there are aspects of our communication that were appreciated in the past and acknowledged but they may be problems to work on, and resolved. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Thanks, Umit. Great point about how this approach can build connections that will help with any future disagreements. I hadn’t thought about that aspect before, and I thank you for sharing it.

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