Why can’t we just accept a compliment?


It seems giving and accepting a simple, well-meaning compliment is fraught with danger

why can't we accept a compliment

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.

You have your own blog? Your life must be all kinds of fascinating.

You have your own blog?

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.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

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 giveI 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.

How to give a compliment

  • 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.

Some tips on how to accept a compliment

  • 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
Source

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.

Deb xx

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  One thought on “Why can’t we just accept a compliment?

  1. November 29, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    This is a great topic for discussion, Deb. You’ve covered it well.
    I LOVE the Justin Trudeau quote. I think you need to start planning that trip to Canada!!
    BTW…you look marvelous!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:20 pm

      Thank you Donna, I’m glad you also think it’s a topic worthy of discussion. I enjoyed writing my thoughts on the subject and it all started from a comment my mother made. I will definitely come to Canada, just to meet you and Justin! Compliment graciously accepted 🙂

      Like

  2. November 29, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    Oh it’s so hard to accept a compliment, but so important to be a gracious recipient. The problem I think is that then one feels the need to compliment in return and that can therefore come across as insincere! Arghhhh! Katie

    Liked by 1 person

  3. November 29, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Yeah, It’s so damn difficult to accept a compliment. I always end up thinking that people are just extending fake modesties…Thanks for this article Deb.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:52 pm

      My pleasure, I’m glad it got you thinking too and sharing your difficulties in accepting compliments. It seems we’re all alike in that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. November 29, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    It’s good that you have taken up this issue, Debbie…..judging between genuine and exaggerated compliments is an art that needs to be mastered, but in both cases the graceful thing is to acknowledge the same and move on….nice write up.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. November 29, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Oh yes “fraught with danger” is apt. Loved the – rather be like you than pretty – lol… made me smile there.
    Yes a backhanded compliment won’t get someone far – but it’s working on looking at the good – even the
    giver of such said compliments. Non-flattery being the thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:50 pm

      Yes I get what you mean Deborah. Some are more fraught than others. Thanks for your comment and thoughts. It’s always good to hear what everyone is thinking.

      Like

  6. November 29, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    What a good topic Deb! I’ve always found it hard to accept compliments, but have now learnt, by saying a simple Thank you with a smile. Why is it difficult though? I have no idea! Like Donna, I too love Justin Trudeau’s quote. I do like to give compliments though, it’s not too difficult to make someone smile 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      I agree Sam, it’s lovely to brighten someone’s day with a compliment isn’t it? I wonder why we’re all so tight about accepting them from others though?? So many questions 😊

      Like

  7. November 29, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    I’ve always been rubbish with accepting compliments. Whenever anyone compliments an item of clothing I always brush it off with how cheap it was or how old it is. I get embarrassed I think with compliments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      I think many of us do the sane thing Rachael but it is a but disrespectful to the compliment giver isn’t it? I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, you’re definitely not alone in being embarrassed 😊

      Like

  8. November 29, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    I have always struggled receiving compliments but yes thank you is enough. Why do we waste energy looking for hidden meanings?

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:44 pm

      I don’t know why we waste our energy on lots of things!! Thanks for joining in. Saying thank you is simple and sufficient in my book. 😊

      Like

  9. November 29, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    I kind of think of backhanded compliments when some strangers sees me out and says ‘well done!’ for nothing. Like for what, getting out of bed? And this is something else, but when people tell me my kid is beautiful first, before anything. No, smart first. And related to that, when people say she’s beautiful but looks nothing like me. She does, though.

    Favorite compliments, ever:

    You’re a good mother
    You write well
    You have the best laugh.

    I like to point out good things that people might not notice about themselves. And if I say I like you better than coffee, you’re my best friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:13 pm

      Good one Lorna, I agree about those sorts of back handed compliments.I think it’s important to tell kids they’re smart too, rather than focus on their looks (even if they are beautiful). I think being told you’re a good mother is one of the best things to say. Thanks for joining in.

      Like

  10. November 29, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    An important topic, Deb. One worth repeating often. I believe learning to accept a compliment gracefully takes practice and whoever actually teaches us this? Instead we are taught to be self effacing, at best. Receiving the good stuff takes practice. Hearing it, accepting it, and believing it is all too rare. Let’s all help each other practice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:09 pm

      I totally agree with you Janet and appreciate your thoughtful comment on the topic. I wondered if it would be of interest as I was writing it but am pleased to see it’s been so well received. Maybe we all need to remind ourselves of these things every now and again.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Nancy
    November 29, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Deb,
    Compliments have always made me uncomfortable. Even if I was sure they were sincere if I just accepted them I wondered if I was being conceited or self-centers. In the past few years I have definitely tried to accept them more graciously and assume good intent on the part of the giver.
    Interesting topic…
    And, I love your blog and look forward to each post. (sincere compliment 🙂 )
    Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:07 pm

      I know what you mean Nancy, I think many of us feel the same way. I wonder where that started from though? I graciously accept your sincere compliment and really appreciate your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. November 30, 2018 at 12:48 am

    Someone once told my mother: “Myrna, you look so nice today I almost didn’t recognize you.” Seriously! Here in New York City, when someone compliments you on an article of clothing, the response is invariably to reply “I got it on sale at Bloomingdale’s/Saks/Barney’s for just X amount!” Honest. They ALWAYS tell you how very little it cost. I have learned from this. I just say “thank you”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 30, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      I think that’s a pretty standard response to such a compliment anywhere these days, which is a bit sad! A simple thank you is the best. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially your mother’s story.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. November 30, 2018 at 3:06 am

    Great post. Some of these did make me chuckle, especially the hair one. Like my hair usually looks a mess. Also people tend to say it when I haven’t actually done anything to my hair!

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      I know exactly what you mean Gemma! Thanks for your comment, I enjoyed writing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. November 30, 2018 at 9:04 am

    it is hard sometimes to know when someone is being sincere and mean what they say, also hard when you try and compliment someone and offend instead. great post..

    Liked by 1 person

  15. November 30, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    I think a lot of us have trouble accepting compliments because of our insecurities. As I’ve gotten older and believe in myself a little more, I’m learning to graciously accept a sincere compliment, and brush off the ones that aren’t. Thanks Deb, for another insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 9:53 pm

      Thank you Christina, I agree it’s to do with our insecurities but age is a good leveller I find. Being gracious is the key!

      Like

  16. November 30, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Hi Deb i’ve Always struggled with accepting compliments and always made a joke of them and I suppose myself. I now realize that if someone is sincere in their compliment I need to treat that with respect and accept it graciously with a thank you 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 9:52 pm

      I agree Sue, it’s a lesson we all have to learn at some stage. I’m getting better at it these days but it is still hard at times. When it’s a sincere compliment it’s easier to accept I think. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject 🙂

      Like

  17. November 30, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    You’re the best sister ever!

    Great post. I’ve learnt to be gracious and just say ‘thank you. That’s very sweet of you’. I’ve learnt it’s not good to be too self-effacing as you spend too much time swatting the compliment away and that makes more of it than is required. That’s my view anyway.
    Great smile Deb!

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2018 at 9:48 pm

      Many thanks for your kind comment little sister! I agree with your thoughts, and think a simple thank you is the best way to go. I do enjoy giving a compliment to see the resulting happiness. Always great to have your comment and support.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. November 30, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    Well, there’s lots of comments so it must be an issue we women struggle with Deb. I dated a lovely young man when I was 18-19 and he used to compliment me regularly and I didn’t know how to handle it – I always blew it off and turned it around because I had no self-esteem at all. He stopped me one day and asked why I couldn’t accept being told something nice about myself and I told him I didn’t know what to say. His reply – “just say thank you” and that has stuck with me all my life. It fits well with what you say in your post – I think “thank you” is the simplest way to accept someone’s kind words without feeling like you’re preening or boasting. Great post (just say “thank you” 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 2, 2018 at 10:44 pm

      I’m smiling as I say ‘thank you’ Leanne! I agree, I too have been surprised at the responses to this issue, it’s great to get such feedback and everyone sharing their thoughts so generously. I love your story and agree with you wholeheartedly. Thanks again for joining in the conversation.

      Like

  19. December 2, 2018 at 12:03 am

    This is such a great discussion topic, Debbie. The way I look at it is that I don’t give compliments unless I really mean them. And I don’t keep repeating the same compliment to the same person. However, I dislike receiving compliments myself because I see it as putting me as the centre of attention, and I don’t like being in that position. Sure, I will say a simple ‘thank you’ but I will then move on as quickly as possible.
    Compliments are great, but I see myself as being more polite. So, for me, opening a door for somebody, or allowing somebody to pass me by first, is of far greater importance. It also makes me feel great when I know I’ve been polite to somebody, even if they do not say a ‘thank you’ in return.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 2, 2018 at 10:39 pm

      It’s great to have your thoughts on this topic Hugh. It’s funny how we all seem to shy away from wanting to be the centre of attention and that getting a compliment puts the focus on us. I like your idea of being polite and kind to others. Those sorts of actions also give me a great sense of satisfaction and pleasure. I’m really pleased with the response I’ve had to this post, it seems to be more of an issue than I first thought. I really appreciate your comment, so thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 3, 2018 at 2:39 am

        Oh, you’re welcome, Debbie. Well written and thought-proking posts will always get great responses. The responses this post has generated show that everyone has read the post, rather than leave a comment pretending to have read it or just skipped through it. You’ve come up with a great subject and written about it in an engaging manner. For me, this is what blogging is supposed to be all about.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. December 2, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Very thought provoking Deb. I think staying away from physical compliments is what I prefer. I have gotten better at accepting compliments as I age and I try to dish out specific ones generously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 2, 2018 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Sue, it’s been interesting to read everyone’s comments on this topic. I also feel I’m better at accepting compliments the older I get. I really enjoy giving them much more than getting them though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  21. December 3, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I can’t think of a particular offending “compliment” but I know I have received a few. I think most people have good intentions and the fact that they noticed at all says something. I hate when you have purposefully made a change or are feeling well put together and NO ONE NOTICES!

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 4, 2018 at 11:14 pm

      Yes I get that too Shannon. If you’ve deliberately made a change and no one notices it can be slightly depressing. I agree most people have good intentions. Thanks for joining in!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. December 4, 2018 at 6:20 am

    LOL, I never found compliments about my weight to be offensive, but I have been working really hard to lose weight! Usually when people tell me, “You look well,” they mean that I look skinnier. 😉

    Two compliments are very awkward for me to receive. The first is, “You are an inspiration.” Generally this is in reference to my making it through the challenges I have faced. But it kind of creates a disconnect. What I hear is, “Wow. Crappy stuff happened to you, but I am glad it doesn’t happen to me.” When what we all really want to know is that we are not alone in our struggles.

    The other one is, “It takes a special person to do that.” This was always in reference to my former job or my daughter. I used to teach special education, and I ended my career on medical leave after some serious injuries. So hearing that “compliment” kind of says, “You weren’t special enough of a person to hack it.” It doesn’t take a special person to teach students with disabilties. It takes a dedicated person with sufficient support.

    My daughter has autism, and I’m never sure what to make of it when people say it takes a special person to be her parent. Really, what I’m hearing is that they don’t know her at all. She is seriously the easiest child in the world to raise. 😉

    Like

    • December 4, 2018 at 10:51 pm

      I totally get your thoughts on the various types of compliments and really appreciate your sharing your observations. Sometimes people just don’t know what to say do they, and what they do say is better left unsaid.

      I agree it takes a dedicated person with sufficient support to teach those with disabilities. I taught in a prison for over 20 years and saw nearly every type of disability and was lucky enough to have great teachers in supportive roles. We made a real difference but others couldn’t always see the worth of it.

      You know your daughter best and it’s lovely to hear you say she’s the easiest child in the world, it means you’re doing a great job and love what you do.

      Thanks again for your honest and insightful comment and adding to this conversation. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. December 7, 2018 at 7:03 am

    I’ve learned to accept compliments more in recent years……probably because I appreciate them more. I even say thanks to the ones that aren’t genuine; after a long pause!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 8, 2018 at 5:20 pm

      That’s great to hear Gloria, I think saying thanks to the ones that aren’t genuine is even more fun sometimes, just to see their reaction 🙂

      Like

  24. Unbound Roots
    December 11, 2018 at 4:38 am

    Deb, this is a great article – full of details and and examples (and I sincerely mean this too)! I’ve thought a lot about compliments in the past because I was not good at giving them, and I was not good at receiving them (I’d blush like crazy and find myself at a loss of words). Why is “thank you” so difficult sometimes? I think in my case it was because I felt like I should say more than just “thank you” back, but a simple “thank you” is really perfect! I also find that blogging has been the perfect outlet to practice compliments. It’s easy to find different compliments on someone’s writing as there is so much to ponder as you read (content, style, prose, etc.). I find it much easier to give compliments in-person these days too, and I know that a simple “thank you” works well as a response when receiving a compliment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 11, 2018 at 9:17 am

      Many thanks to you too Erin! I agree blogging is a great way to practice both giving and receiving compliments. It can be hard to know the right thing to say but if we’re sincere I’m sure that comes across in both words and actions. It’s been so interesting to hear from so many others on this topic, we all seem to have similar issues with compliments, so in one way I’m glad to know I’m not alone 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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