It seems giving and accepting a simple, well-meaning compliment is fraught with danger
Why is it so?
I’m sure you agree that it can feel really good to receive a compliment. It’s been proven somewhere that getting a sincere compliment gives us a real boost, and it’s just as good a feeling for the person giving the compliment. Compliments really are a great way to spread happiness, as long as they are sincere. The more you compliment, it’s been said, the better you feel.
But getting it right can be hard – you don’t want to come across as flirtatious or sucking up or insincere. It can also depend on the headspace of the person as to how the compliment is accepted – or not – as the case may be! It can be a very fraught situation indeed.
Here are some real examples –
1: You’re looking well!
If you want to tell someone they look well, why can’t you just say so? Well you can, but more than likely the recipient will take it that you are saying something entirely different!!
Hidden thinking: Apparently telling someone they ‘look well or good’ is code for DON’T YOU KNOW YOU’VE PUT ON WEIGHT? Regardless of the fact they’ve recently suffered a great loss, have been away on a rejuvenating holiday and come home looking refreshed – and are looking well. Be warned the recipient may just take it a different way.
Response: We must learn to say a simple thank you and accept the nice words as just that – a nice, reassuring, well-meaning and positive comment. They are not telling us we have put on weight, they are saying we look refreshed, happier, comfortable in our skin and maybe more content than the last time they saw us.
2: Your hair looks lovely today.
Hidden thinking: What’s wrong with my hair every other day? Has it been looking messy, dirty, tired or unflattering of late??
Response: They are not telling us our hair has been looking dreadful, but today they’ve just noticed how nice it looks and decided to tell us so. We should learn to say a simple thank you.
3: I love the back of your hair
(especially after a recent haircut or change of style)
Hidden thinking: What’s wrong with the FRONT of my hair? I’d rather my face and the front of my hair looks good than the back, as it’s the part I see the most. I can’t even see the back, so I don’t care that much about it.
Response: They are trying to help us out by telling us the back of our hair is sitting well, purely because they know we can’t see it ourselves, unless we were to contort ourselves in various mirrors. A simple thank you for the comment is all that is required.
4: You look like you’ve lost weight.
Hidden meaning: This can be a very sore point. You’ve either lost weight recently because you’ve been trying to, in which case you accept the compliment with a smile or you’re sick and have lost weight unintentionally. Whichever scenario suits you, dictates your response. On the other hand, if you haven’t lost weight but they think you have lost a few kilos, are they actually trying to say you need to lose weight? It’s a fraught situation and one you’re best to steer clear of. Unless you know the person has actively been trying to lose weight, don’t go there!
The other one that is a definite no-go zone is where you congratulate someone for being pregnant, when in fact they have actually just put on weight! Or they were pregnant and have recently had the baby. OOPS, it happens far too often!!
Response: We must learn to say a simple thank you and move on. It really is no-one else’s business!
Paying someone a sincere compliment can make you feel good, as well as the receiver.
It would be a sad old world if we stopped giving compliments, so my suggestion is that we stop overthinking things and just accept the kind and well-meaning comments for what they are.
In my opinion compliments aren’t generally patronising or sleazy, unless of course they’re said in a way that makes it so.
Have you an example of giving or receiving of compliments? What are your thoughts on this subject?
“But I’d rather look like you than be pretty,” she told Anne sincerely.
Anne laughed, sipped honey from the tribute, and cast away the sting.”
I did some in-depth research on a wet and miserable indoors-y day and came up with these helpful hints.
I found this interesting article about the 10 Worst compliments you can give – I particularly like #5 on the list about the backhanded compliment. Attaching a qualifier to the end of your compliment actually turns it into an insult.
You look good for your age.
You carry your weight well.
Have you ever been given a compliment that made you feel worse instead of better? The most typical form of this compliment goes something like this: “Nice hairdo! It looks a lot better than it used to.” In other words, the person has, in a subtle way, put down your previous hairstyle, but cloaked it as a compliment. Realise that when you give these types of compliments, you are not helping anyone. They are usually offered to make the giver feel good and the receiver feels bad. Instead of cutting other people down, work on building your self-confidence so that you can offer genuine words of praise.
- Find something you genuinely like about the person
- Compliment someone’s point of pride
- Say something that isn’t obvious
- Don’t compliment everyone the same exact way
- Focus on achievements more than physical traits
- Compliment generously, but not excessively
Some of the compliments in this article are a bit cringeworthy but I must say I’d love someone to tell me that I’m more fun than bubble wrap!
Telling someone they smell nice is a bit off I must admit. When I worked in a jail of men aged from 18-100, we were warned not to wear heavy perfume – you don’t know how creepy getting told you smell nice by an inmate is until it happens.
- Do say ‘thank you’.
- Be mindful of your nonverbal behaviour.
- Don’t deny or downplay the compliment.
- Don’t question or insult the person giving you the compliment.
- Don’t milk the compliment.
I had to learn to dismiss people who would criticise me based on nothing, but I also had to learn not to believe the people who would compliment me and think I was great based on nothing. And that led me to have a very, very strong sense of myself and my strengths. Justin Trudeau
It’s very hard
I have lots of questions.
Is it harder to accept compliments as we get older do you think?
Is it more problematic these days?
I also worry about telling babies and children how beautiful or cute or gorgeous they are – but shouldn’t we be looking at their achievements as well. Girls can be clever as well as pretty, as can boys. See it’s all fraught when we overthink it.
I know I often find it hard to accept a compliment. I want to dismiss the compliment as I don’t always believe it, or I don’t want to appear arrogant by accepting what’s being said about me. My daughters often accuse me of fishing for compliments, so I’m afraid I just can’t get it right.
Is that just my age or my insecurity talking?
I’d enjoy hearing any compliments gone wrong stories you may have, or any suggestions on how to accept a compliment, so feel free to leave me a comment below.
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