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This is a follow-up of this question from the English StackExchange. I think my colleague's constitution is amazing for reasons given in that question: she tolerates cold better than the rest of us, she doesn't seem to get jet-lagged, and she gets away with eating chocolate for lunch. Is it OK to tell her?

My personal view is yes: I find people don't usually mind being praised (unless it's for something they have no control over - presumably not the case in this scenario, because a body that's being neglected will not have amazing constitution). Then since 1) it's likely to make her happy and 2) it doesn't cost me anything, I might as well do it.

Surprisingly however, from the comments in that question, some people think this is inappropriate. I'm asking this here to see what people think about this.

Aside: I've already told her. She smiled, said she's actually more jet-lagged than she appears to be, and we moved on to the next topic.

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    This was basically already answered in the other thread (English Language SE). If you had a question about someone's comment, it should be asked there. – Brandin Apr 9 at 15:02
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    You've already said something to the coworker and didn't get a negative reaction, so what do you want us to help you with? – David K Apr 9 at 15:21
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    Seems like a lot of SE.Workplace questions are about concrete problems that people need to solve for the sake of their careers. From that perspective, this question may seem weird. However, I suspect that there's no intent for this question to come from that angle -- I suspect that it's meant as a thought experiment. The actual answer would seem less important than the rationale behind it. – Nat Apr 9 at 18:07
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I wouldn't use the word constitution. I don't hear it used for this meaning often, and it sounds overly formal. It would remind me of "morning constitutional," which definitely has negative connotations.

A less formal, more light-hearted alternative is, "Wow, it's amazing you're able to handle so much and bounce back so quickly. I would be dead tired now if I had just travelled so far!"

I would definitely not recommend saying anything about her eating chocolate for lunch though. It could come off as a veiled criticism of her eating habits or possibly her weight.

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My first thought was about gender : it's probably ok if you are the same gender, but from a male colleague could seem weird - but that may depend on the location as well.

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    The commentary the author made is weird no matter what gender the colleague is. The comment the author wants to make is inappropriate for a work colleague. – Ramhound Apr 10 at 2:16
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This is a case where context is utterly important. I mean this in a few ways:

  • Do you have an existing relationship with this person?
  • Are you, at the moment you're thinking about making this comment, already engaged in conversation on a relevant topic?
  • Are you phrasing your comment in a way that makes sense, given the conversation?
  • Do you have any obvious ulterior motives behind the comment?

If you're talking with a coworker whom you're friends with, and you're discussing her recent travel schedule, it's no big deal (and perhaps even expected) to say something like,

Wow, I'm surprised you can handle all that travel and still be able to bounce back and work effectively today. Last time I traveled for two weeks, I had to take a day off when I returned.

However, even in that context, it may be awkward to say something closer to what you proposed,

You have a great constitution!

Or, perhaps worse, the way you were hinting at phrasing it in your question on the other SE site,

You have a great body!

In other words, when you're already friendly with the person, and talking about their travels, the answer to your question really just boils down to word choice and phrasing.

By contrast, let's look at a different relational and situation context. If you have no real relationship with this person, statements like this will be easy to misinterpret - because your intentions or ulterior motives won't be clear. Even if you're on topic (ie you're talking with her about recent travel, or room temperature), some people may interpret such a broad compliment as an attempt to curry favor, or even initiate a relationship - in short, they may think you're complimenting them simply because you're romantically or physically interested in them. In these cases, it's probably better to just keep your thoughts to yourself. Remaining silent can be especially good advice in the workplace because of the sensitivity to sexual harassment - if this person feels that you're trying to compliment them as a way to pursue a relationship that they don't want, that can easily lead to a slippery slope and given that there's no real upside, it's a bad idea to take that risk.

  • And her smiling when you made the comment: that doesn't mean she approved or appreciated the comment. But you're a co-worker, and she has to find a way to work with you, even if you make weird or off-putting comments. A smile is often the way women react when they're not sure how to react. – thursdaysgeek Apr 9 at 23:55

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