Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lessons from the high school quest for popularity

I was clearly one of the COOL kids in high school, braces and all

We certainly had that group of POPULAR kids who dressed the part and looked pretty cool from afar at my school.

They sat in a particular lounge between classes and at lunch where access was limited to group members and occasional daring souls willing to commit social suicide if it didn't go so well. However, when I think back on them there wasn't anything particularly likable about them. They looked the part perhaps but mostly kept to themselves. There were certainly more talented, dynamic, friendly, and interesting people to associate with at school.

And then there was that subgroup of people who really were POPULAR. The people who everyone actually liked. The ones who were able to cross groups and be friends with the "most popular" to the "nerdiest nerds." The ones who didn't shop exclusively at Abercrombie & Fitch (oh the ultimate high school clique promoting store!) but were still somehow worth knowing.

It is from this subgroup that I gained my inspiration for today's post. There are two girls in particular that stick out in my mind. We will call them Charlotte and Sarah.

Although I would hope they would still consider me a friend, I doubt they think much about me over 10 years later. But I learned a few lessons from them that I still try my best to follow.

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I found I particularly liked Charlotte and Sarah. In fact, I think everyone felt that way about them. They were so fun and interesting. It was as if we were instant best friends whenever we were together, even if we hadn't talked for awhile. Mostly, they seemed to really like me, too. They always had something nice to say, about how I was "Like the nicest person" they knew, or "I was, like, the prettiest girl ever." I felt the same about them.

You are probably smarter than I was as a 16 year old and figured out they were this way with anyone they encountered. It seemed everyone was, "Like the best." At first I was a little puzzled, maybe even hurt. "I thought I was the best, but you just told Bridget and Carly and Joanne that they were the best." While I continued to like them, it left the proverbial "bad taste in my mouth" and I sought their attention less and less frequently.

No wonder I received so many compliments!

Knowing that they were actually nice girls, I don't think they used flattery as a calculated tactic to gain social standing (although I am sure it did help them become some of the most popular girls a school). I think they honestly gave compliments to be kind and friendly. But the technique of over-complimenting wasn't very sincere and left me wondering if they even liked me or how much I actually liked them. I figured out pretty quickly that although empty praises may gain easy social standing, it doesn't result in real relationship boosts.

So lesson #1: Give sincere compliments and avoid flattery. 

My personal definition of flattery is any kind of inflated compliment that couldn't possibly be true. It usually includes statements that end in "-est." Unless I am talking about my husband, I can't honestly promise that someone is "The BEST!" That goes for other compliments like the prettiest, smartest, fastest, nicest, funniest. I can't guarantee that in fact anyone is, truly, the epitomy of any of these traits (--I don't know any Guinness Book World Record holders or maybe I could). But, I can genuinely and honestly say something like, "You are GREAT!" Or, "You are so pretty, smart, fast, or nice!" I can feel like I gave a genuine compliment and you don't have to wonder if I say it to everyone. Even if I did, it shouldn't take away the legitimacy of your compliment. You can both be smart but you can't both be the smartest.

I also tend to avoid returning compliments. I don't want the pressure of trying to match (or maybe even deflect) a compliment to trick me into saying something I don't really mean. For example, "Erin, I love your dress." I find myself scrambling for something else to say back like, "Well, Carol, I love your your shoes." Maybe I like the shoes but didn't love them enough to say something until I felt pressured to respond.

It also feels more sincere if I give a compliment first so you don't wonder if I said something just to be nice back.

Now, I usually just answer with a simple thank you. I don't feel off guard trying to find a compliment to spit back and you don't have to wonder if I was just being nice in return. If I do send a compliment back, it is usually one I had been saving up and hadn't had a chance to share yet.

That leads me to my second lesson: Just say thank you!

We'll talk about that more next time.

1 comment:

Suz said...

Good lesson.