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Responding to Compliments: A Quasi-Experiment Dan Shaw Adv. Interpersonal Comm. Dr. Shafer Summer II 2000 The ability to give compliments and to receive compliments marks a skilled communicator. (Dow). By better understanding a single speech act, we can better understand all communication (Searle). The question I chose to pursue for the purposes of this quasi-experiment is: "Do compliments elicit formulaic responses?" Knapp et al found that compliments were very formulaic, being used in specific ways regarding certain topics, phrased in a limited number of ways, and eliciting very similar types of responses. Another author, Wolfson, observed that compliments show "an almost total lack of originality". Do responses to compliments also "lack originality"? After reviewing Knapp's article, I attempt to answer this question by classifying the responses of stars receiving the Academy Award. Knapp et al's procedure In their article, Knapp et al review the relatively sparse literature on compliments to "establish a descriptive taxonomy for the content and form of compliments and replies to them." They also attempt to answer some other basic questions about compliments: What qualities do compliments have in common with other speech acts? Are they formulaic? Do the actor and the partner (recipient) tend to be different status or different gender? Knapp refers to the literature citing certain cultural, gender, age, and status differences in compliment usage. The authors consider the perceptions of the recipient as to whether the compliment was deserved or undeserved, and as to the motives of the complimenter. Knapp et al conducted three studies. In all three, interviewers ask respondents to recall the exact wording of a recent compliment. In the most extensive survey, investigators gathered 768 compliments (half "given" and half "received), and the replies. Investigators also asked specific questions such as, "What compliment did you value most?" The authors coded the compliments according to several criteria; because they were concerned with the accuracy of the coding they double checked their results. By narrowing their categories, they were able to achieve better consistency in the form and content of compliments, percentages in the high 90's in most categories. Standard content of compliments Compliments usually reference performance, personal appearance, attire, possessions, or helping/ service. The most valued compliments tend to be of the whole person. Compliments usually are acknowledged. Nice and good appear to have relatively distinct usages. Nice tends to be used more with appearance and attire, and good used more with performance. For example, "Nice shoes," and "good work". Of course, these generalizations vary according to culture, status, age and gender. Four standard forms of compliments Compliments generally follow one of four standard syntactic structures. Here they are with examples: 1. noun phrase/ linking verb/ (intensifier)/ adjective That shirt looks so nice. 2. I/ (intensifier) / like [or] love/ noun phrase I really like your shoes. 3. pronoun/verb "to be" / (intensifier)/ ("a")/ adjective/ noun phrase You are really a lovely woman. 4. (noun phrase) / (linking verb)/(intensifier)/adjective/noun phrase "That Chinese dinner you cooked was really excellent." The authors identified the fourth category of compliment to account for compliments which were otherwise not easily categorizable. Nonstandard forms of compliments were more likely to be misunderstood. Four Parameters According to the authors, compliments incorporate four dialectics; directness, specificity, comparison, and amplification. Compliments vary according to the degree that they are more direct, or more indirect. The three other spectra are: specific/ general; comparison/ no comparison; and normal/ amplified. The authors identify four levels of amplification, from normal, to amplified with superlative and modifier. Four Variables I. cultural differences Complimenting has been found to be more common in the US than in Indonesia. Americans compliment more in the context of intimate relationships, while Japanese compliment more in the context of less intimate relationships. II status differences Compliments tend to be given by people of higher status to those of lower status. III age differences Younger people tend to compliment more frequently on appearance, and are more likely to respond in kind. IV gender Women receive more and reciprocate more. Responding to compliments The recipient of the compliment will likely respond in one of several formulaic ways. Several researchers have cited the difficulty people have in receiving compliments (Knapp p. 14). "Thank you" is considered a ritualistic response acknowledging the compliment. Other responses may be less receptive; the recipient may blush or stammer, attempt to diminish the compliment by deflecting it or sharing the credit; or the recipient may ignore the compliment. Knapp's categories verbatim: ritualistic acceptance, pleased acceptance, embarrassed, tempered acceptance, return compliment, magnified acceptance, not acknowledged, soliciting information, denial. Magnified acceptance is an interesting case because it deliberately breaks the norm against self-praise. The norm of tactful, humble acceptance of compliments is perhaps best embodied by the "aw shucks" of Nashville. Quasi Experiment: Academy Awards Recipient Speech Types Frequency of Types of Responses The 23 samples are recorded in Appendix A, along with the category I chose. Of the 23 samples, here are my counts by frequency. I counted some acceptance speeches in more than one category. My results would have been different had I selected just one "primary" category for each response, or if I had counted all the sharing in one category. Perhaps because of the nature of my observation, I wanted to make finer distinctions between sharing and a type of redirect which Knapp doesn't distinguish. sharing with family = 6 humor = 6 feeling = 5 sharing with profession = 3 return compliment = 3 sharing with film crew = 2 sharing with nominees = 2 pleased = 2 not acknowledged = 2 magnified = 1 embarassed = 1 I found that most of the celebrities shared the credit for their award, either with their profession or with their family. Knapp calls this "tempered acceptance." Turner and Edgley called this "minimizing responsibility," a type of "discounting or minimizing." I believe that sharing is distinct from tempering. Some celebs express pleased acceptance. In my opinion, this category is not broad enough to include other expressions of feeling that I saw at the Academy Awards. Many use humor, perhaps as a way to deflect the praise. Some employ a combination of forms. The recipient may share the award with the other nominees, or takes the opportunity to thank other people, family or colleagues. I found that the same words "Thank you" may be ritualized to the point of emptiness, or they may be full of authentic expression of feeling, depending much on the paralinguistics. Perhaps because we are used to identifying with actors, we are pleased when the actor is pleased. But this is also true when we compliment someone personally. Magnified acceptance is used rarely, the award being refused or not acknowledged is even more rare. Areas for Future Research Research on compliments poses certain difficulties, namely the virtual impossibility of designing lab experiments to garner information on naturally occurring compliments. Information regarding the frequency of compliment giving is also sparse, according to the authors. Further data on acceptance of awards would be relatively easy to obtain. References Dow, M. G., S. Glaser, and A. Biglan. "The Relecvance of Specific Conversational Behaviors to Ratings of Social Skill: An Experimental Analysis." Journal of Behavioral Assessment 3, 1981, pp. 233-242. (Cited in Knapp). Knapp, Mark L. Robert Hopper, and Robert A. Bell (1984). Compliments: A Descriptive Taxonomy, Journal of Communication 34, Vol. 34 No. 4. pp. 12-31. Searle, J. R. Speech Acts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969. (Cited in Knapp). Wolfson, N. and J. Manes. "The Compliment as a Social Strategy," Papers in Linguistics: International Journal of Human Communication 13, 1980, pp. 391- 410. (Cited in Knapp).
"Responding to Compliments A Quasi-Experiment Dan Shaw Adv "