So, you’re talking to a woman who is super talented, and you want to give her a compliment.
That’s really lovely of you. You must be a nice person.
I love getting compliments. Who doesn’t? But throughout my rather short existence so far, I have had a few too many compliments that I would rather not have received.
Just last week at work, I had a customer at my bar job cat call me, make kissy noises, and whistle every time I walked past.
We are all very aware by now that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable; and is not appreciated by women in general.
However, behind these obvious faux pas, there are subtler ways in which your compliment could end up offending the recipient rather than flattering them. And there is one word you should definitely be aware of if you want to prevent this from happening.
That word is “actually.”
Let me explain.
Whenever I’m participating in activities that are generally more masculine, I find that in an effort to make me feel better about my place there, people accidentally end up making me feel worse.
When I used to train MMA and would roll with a guy; at the end of a round he would say, “wow, you’re actually quite strong.”
At open mics where all the percussionists tend to be male, I would stand up after playing; and people would come over to me and say, “you’re actually really good at playing the drums.”
I know it’s just one word. I have told myself this on numerous occasions. But its use has quite a significant implication.
You see, when you tell someone that they are actually good at something, it suggests that you weren’t expecting them to be good at all in the first place.
The guy who was rolling with me at the gym looked at me and assumed that I would be weak; just like those people at the open mic nights saw me walking towards the stage and automatically assumed that I wouldn’t play very well. And they were shocked when their assumptions turned out to be false.
That is what you are really saying when you tell someone they are actually good at something.
As women, we are underestimated in almost every field, especially in any activity that may not be seen as stereotypically feminine.
But it is not just men who undermine us. We also undermine each other and ourselves.
How about we stop doing that ladies?
The best compliment you can give a woman, especially in a male dominated field, is a complement that doesn’t make her aware of your initial assumptions.
While we’re at it, how about we get rid of our assumptions altogether?
Telling a woman that she just IS good at something; and letting her know that you didn’t assume otherwise, is actually empowering.