10 Things to Say Instead of “You’re So Talented”

Your friend shows you a picture of a photograph she took. It’s absolutely stunning. The lighting, the composition, everything. It’s perfect! What do you say?

“You’re so talented!”

Why on earth do we say that? Was the picture taken the very first time your friend picked up a camera? Was that her first photo? It these answer to those things are yes, then it’s likely that it was pure talent–or pure luck. But, chances are, your friend worked very, very hard at learning the art of photography.

We use “talent” as kind of generic kind of praise, but it’s not really praise, because it’s saying “you had nothing to do with the success here. It’s all straight from God.” Now, if you believe that to be the case, fine, but most of us believe that God or no God, developing talent takes work. And we don’t need talent in order to succeed: We need to work.

This is why the Human Resource habit of using the word “talent” bugs me. We say we engage in “talent acquisition” instead of “recruiting.” But, what does that mean? Do we go and pluck talent off a shelf somewhere? What if someone doesn’t have all the “talent” you need right this instant? Does it acknowledge that we need to train and develop people?

And so I hate the “you’re so talented” compliment. Because it pretends you did no work, and furthermore, I could never do what you did because I lack the talent. Hogwash. I could learn it. (Well, if I wanted to and was willing to do the work.) Some things come more easily to some people, of course, and if you want to be the absolute best in the world, you’ll probably need a bit of inborn talent. But, mainly success-whether in business, science, or art–comes after a lot of work.

So, I’ve put together a list of 10 things to say instead of “you’re so talented,” to help us all remember that that success (whatever it was) wasn’t talent, it was work. Here we go:

  1. That was amazing!
  2. I can’t imagine all the work that you must have put into that!
  3. Beautiful! How did you learn to do that?
  4. I would love to learn how to do that, but I’m not willing to invest the time you did.
  5. What a beautiful pay-off for all that hard work!
  6. Congratulations! You surely deserved that!
  7. I’m so impressed! What a lot of skill!
  8. Wow! You are awesome!
  9. How long have you been doing x? It really shows!
  10. Stunning! Great job!

Try out these comments the next time you’re tempted to praise someone’s talent. Watch them beam with pride. They’ve worked hard. They deserve recognition.

This article originally appeared at Inc.

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13 thoughts on “10 Things to Say Instead of “You’re So Talented”

  1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the word “talent” in praising someone. Most times, a good outcome is the result of hard work. Sometimes, though, it is the result of sheer, inborn, “talent.” Other times — especially in photography (even veteran photographers readily admit this) — luck (being the right place at the right time, clicking the shutter at a serendipitous moment, an accident of light or technology, etc.) plays a huge, and decisive, role in the quality of the outcome.

  2. I see nothing negative about the word “talent.” Because “talent” expresses “expertise” rather than invested time, it remains a compliment. Number 4 could imply someone has invested too much time into their achievement. The other suggestions are good!

  3. I’m flattered when I’m called “talented” but I object to being referred to as “talent.” When you *recruit* you’re persuading people to join the organization, while when you *acquire talent* it sounds like you’re purchasing people from a used people lot.

    1. Good point. In fact, technically, to “acquire talent” connotes a transfer of talent from one individual to another, which is — totally — incorrect. An organization can acquire talented employees, but cannot separate them from their talents.

  4. I’m a software developer and I get confused by this concept. A lot of people say, “Wow, you must be so smart/talented to be a programmer!”

    On one hand, I do think you need some level of innate talent to succeed in this field. But what they’re missing when they say that is the THOUSANDS of hours I’ve poured into banging my head against the keyboard just trying to get things to work or struggling to push concepts into my pea brain.

    In any case though, I don’t think I get offended by it but it’s just one of those weird things I think about late at night.

  5. Man, I followed the comments on this thread and received a bizarre one from an obviously insane person. Thank God it’s not posted here.

    1. Was it the mark of the beast, new world order one? Thankfully the Spam filter captured it, but it surprises me that it sent it out to subscribed people! I need to fix that.

      And yes, that was quite the comment. I did not read the whole thing because I can only take in so much crazy in my day to day life.

      1. Yes, that was the one. Unfortunately, I did read the whole thing, which I do not recommend to anyone. It’s highly disturbing to see so many insane conspiracy theories rolled up into one.

        1. I do feel bad for people like that as they clearly need help. But here is not the place for it.

          1. It’s genuinely scary to think they’re running around loose, promulgating their insanity via the Internet.

    1. I have (theoretically) blocked the spammer’s email address, website, and IP address, so hopefully, we will not be subject to this any longer!

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