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.