Last week I was talking with a client who mentioned something I had done and referred to it as “a good job”. As pleased as I was to receive this compliment, I noticed that in some way it felt a bit empty. It was nice that my client felt positive about what I’d done, but I still had no clue as to what he liked about it or how it had helped him. It was pleasant but vague.

This started me thinking about the difference between compliments, endorsements and acknowledgments. What my client said to me was a compliment. A compliment is a positive statement about a behavior or thing. Emotionally it’s detached. Comments such as “great job”, “nice play”, “beautiful jacket”, or “good work” are all compliments. They are nice to receive, but really don’t say much about the person who is receiving them. Compliments are appropriate for showing appreciation to people you don’t know well such as the gas station attendant who washes your windows or the clerk in the grocery store, but may leave someone you have a relationship with feeling appreciative but empty.

An endorsement is much more fun to receive, because it’s a positive comment that is specific and personal. An endorsement is focused on a person’s ability or skills, and says something about them and how capable and competent you think they are. Examples of endorsements are: “You really have a talent with numbers”, “Your athletic ability is outstanding”, “You always look so stylish and chic, you make that jacket look great”, “The warm friendly manner you use to answer the phone makes people want to call us”.

An acknowledgment is even more personal and is the best of all, because it’s a positive comment that focuses on who the person is. It acknowledges the unique individual they are underneath all the talents, skills and facade. An acknowledgement is affirming and empowering, and can be a great motivator to encourage a person to continue with desired behaviors. Some examples of acknowledgements are: “You are such an intelligent person, I can always count on you to get it right”, “You are a natural athlete and have a can-do attitude, which makes you a joy to coach”, “Your eyes are so lovely, and that jacket really brings out their incredible color,” “You are thoughtful and kind and it shows in the way you treat our customers.”

Compliments, endorsements and acknowledgements can be delivered separately, and in situations where you don’t know the person well, but want to give praise for something, a simple compliment is appropriate. However, the most effective to give and the most fun to receive is a combination of all three. When a compliment, endorsement and acknowledgement are combined it’s a very affirming and motivating experience for the recipient, and is a “feel-good opportunity” for the giver. Examples of the combination are: “Great job! You really have a talent with numbers. You’re such an intelligent person I can always count on you to get it right!” “Nice play. Your athletic ability is outstanding. You are a natural athlete and have a can-do attitude, which makes you a joy to coach.” “Nice jacket. You have a talent for choosing just the right thing to wear, and this outfit emphasizes the lovely color of your eyes.”

Giving praise and appreciation not only applies to how you speak to others, but also to how you talk to yourself. Hopefully your self-talk is positive and helps you feel validated and motivated. Remember that when you speak to yourself you can choose to be vague with “nice job”, or specific and affirming with an endorsement, acknowledgement or combination.

Of course, it goes without saying that compliments, endorsements and acknowledgements should only be given when you truly feel what you’re saying and are sincere with your comments. People can detect insincere praise instantly and you will loose all credibility if you give praise you don’t feel.

So, I’d like to suggest that in the next week you take some time to notice how you verbalize your appreciation for others and yourself. Do you thoughtlessly hand out compliments, or do you give thought to what you want to say and take the time to share a heartfelt endorsement or acknowledgement? You may find that as you do more endorsing and acknowledging, your clients/customers, employees, family and friends will seem to blossom, and you will blossom along with them.

Author's Bio: 

Sandra Abell, MS, LPC, ACC, is president of Inside Jobs Coaching Company and author of the books Self-Esteem: An Inside Job, and Moving Up To Management: Leadership and Management Skills for New Supervisors. You can contact her by email at or visit her website at