If you tell me “You have great hair,” for a minute it might feel nice and I might feel a certain kinship with you. But physical compliments are still judgments on our appearance. This time the verdict was positive; next time it might not be. The scrutiny adds pressure on me to provide an encore, to spend time grooming my hair tomorrow too, so as to continue receiving approval. I might privately hate my hair and wonder whether you actually really like my hair or just want to bring attention to it, or if I’ve received many such compliments I might be concluding that my hair is important to making me valuable. I might wonder why you never compliment my clothing. If others witnessed the compliment, those people might be thinking “I wish my hair looked like that! Maybe I should get it chemically treated,” etc. In short, it’s a whole lot of mental noise. And that’s just for a compliment!
Bonding via appreciations is great – we encourage more meaningful ones, like specific ways in which someone inspires you or a time you noticed someone doing something kind.
As for conversation starters, our campers suggest things like asking about people’s interests or ideas, the story behind a physical item, what they’re excited about, for example.