Sunday, July 22, 2012

Accepting Compliments with Grace

I have been asked several times to do a piece on what seems a simple act, but is really a huge stumbling block for most. Very few of us know how to accept a compliment gracefully. It is, sadly, a social and personal skill that must be learned through repeated experiences and the example of others who are at peace with themselves enough to make it look easy. The question floating about at this point is most likely “What does it matter? It’s no big deal.” Actually, it can be and usually is. How you accept complimentary words from others says a lot about you.  No matter how you mean the response you give, the real impression comes from the spirit in which it was given.

There are three primary reasons why anyone would give a compliment:

·         The giver genuinely means it.

·         An icebreaker to initiate conversation with a stranger.

·         A means to have an “in” with someone, gain trust, manipulate, etc.

Regardless of the reason, what is important is what you do with it. As you are always mindful of how you present yourself, keep in mind that your response says more than the compliment. A sincere smile and “Thank you” is all that is needed. At this point, never belabour the conversation by elaborating or justifying the subject of the compliment. And certainly NEVER belittle or minimalize the compliment. This is a good way to ruin the good feeling meant to be conveyed by a genuine word of praise or an ice breaker and makes you appear insecure or possibly arrogant. Allow me to demonstrate:

Person 1: “What a beautiful necklace.”

Person 2: “Oh this? Thanks. It’s just something I picked up at a flea market.”

Person 2 has just put the thought out there that Person 1’s compliment is of no value, or that they are a poor judge of style. Nice move. It may well be an attempt at being “cool” by Person 2, but it comes off as arrogant and borders on rude. 

Let’s go with another… one of my favourite eyeroll inducers: The attempt at appearing humble.

Guy: “Wow, it’s been forever. You look great!.”

Girl: “Me? No way… I look horrible today. I’ve been cleaning house/at the gym/etc..”

The girl may think she is being coy or appearing humble. She is not. She is basically telling him she does not believe him, that his compliment either makes her uncomfortable (Great way to make him feel like a creeper), or that she is fishing for more praise. 

Now for the one guaranteed to make everyone within earshot incredibly ill at ease, the nervous laugh and data dump.

Girl 1: “I really enjoyed your presentation at the luncheon.”

Girl 2: “Really? I thought I totally screwed it up. I’ve been working on it for weeks and had all these visual aids prepared, but forgot to bring them. But it seemed people were ok with it. Luckily… (Ok, I’ll stop here. Yes, this is based on a real exchange and the girl didn’t stop talking for a good two minutes. Not once did she think to say “Thank you” for the kind words.)

Again, smile sincerely and simply say “Thank you” then leave it at that. Do not forget to make eye contact. This conveys your sincerity and gives them a clue as to whether you are open to continuing the conversation or not. If you immediately look away, or do not make eye contact at all, you have just dismissed them and killed any potential conversation. If the person giving the compliment wants more information, they will ask. If you were nervous, it is quite fine to admit that if it is someone who knows you. Not the wisest move with a stranger. They have paid the compliment because you did well and carried yourself with confidence. That, I would assume, was your intention. Do not ruin your own success.

Now the one that always cracks me up: the schmooze:

Person 1: “I really LOVE your work. I’m always sharing your art with my friends.”

Person 2: “Thank you.” (with smile, of course)

Notice that this time, the receiver kept it simple and gracious. If the individual giving the compliment is attempting to snow you, they have lost their control over the conversation and the ability to keep feeding you a series of lines. Now this one does require a bit of ability in reading people to tell whether the compliment feels genuine or not. If you are not sure, you have been gracious and given yourself breathing room to observe them further and get a better feel for the option of talking more with this person.

All of this having been said, it is not just about how you are perceived by others. Learning to accept a compliment graciously has huge benefits for the receiver. In this day and age, with all the mixed signals about arrogance, humility and a lack of role models (Not to say there aren’t some wonderful ones out there), many people are completely unnerved when paid a compliment. It may be a self-esteem issue or a simple mistrust of others, so why not learn the best way to handle the situation and get a good feeling for oneself in the process.

Why undermine a possibly genuine compliment that gives one a glimpse at themselves through others’ eyes? What could do more to help self-esteem than finding out there is something others recognize and admire? And why waste a perfectly good compliment just because some snot didn’t really mean it? It did mean they were looking for some way to address you, so you must have been noticeable, and for those around you, it was obvious you maintained control and did not hand your power over to the git. If they meant to make you uncomfortable, they did not. If they meant to draw attention to something they thought you were unsure of, they did not.

At the end of the day, you, as receiver, have all the power to consider the compliments you are paid or disregard them. But that is your personal decision and requires no one else’s affirmation.

Let’s face it, my spooky friends, we have ALL had our rants about what a rude world this has become, and how people have become very self-centered, narcissistic and narrow-of-vision. If someone takes the time to pay a compliment, let it feed the positive in the world. Encourage it by being positive AND Gracious in return. Pay compliments as well as accepting them graciously. And ONLY be sincere when you do. Keep it simple and keep it kind. Gushing tends to put people off, understandably. Set the example for what you wish to see more of in this world. It does no good to complain if you are unwilling to be part of a solution. No matter how meager it may seem to you, to those in your immediate vicinity, it may be a huge inspiration.

Now before I close this novella, allow me to address a behaviour I hinted at earlier: Those who fish for compliments.  Have you ever told someone “I love your hair/blouse/whatever..” only to receive “Do you really think so? I thought it looked flat today.” Red flag here. If you have given the compliment once, you should not have to repeat it. A little reassurance in the form of a “Yes” or a nod should be sufficient. But we have all encountered these individuals. They are the ones who, upon receiving a compliment, will throw more personal information, usually self-debasing, in an attempt to be told how great/ok/beautiful they are in an assuring way. This is very draining and very rude. Now I do recognize that many of us are surprised at an initial compliment and may respond with “Do you really think so?”… break the habit now.  Yes, even someone as polite as me has been known to respond with “Now that you mention it, no.”  Granted, this is ONLY appropriate if the person has established themselves as a fisher. It does give them pause to wonder.

Once you have learned to accept compliments graciously, it becomes easier to tell those givers who mean it, as well as being able to gauge those to whom you can pay a compliment who truly needed it. They may fall prey to the bad responses, but you’ll have a good idea why and it may do more than just make a person’s day.

Homework 1: Pay someone a genuine compliment today; Perhaps one a day for the next week.  Note how they respond, but do not concern yourself too much with getting the “right” response. Give it freely and without strings.

Homework 2: Be mindful of the compliments you receive from others and pay close attention to how you respond. Remember: Smile sincerely, make eye contact, say “Thank you”, leave it at that.

And finally…. Let me know how it goes. In the end, it is not about how many compliments you get. If you are happy with yourself, they are simply nice boosts to the day and affirmations that you are on the right track. Never be dependent on compliments and praise, but DO be appreciative of them.

Until next.. keeping it Spooky AND Polite,



  1. It is I, your internet stalker. I have to admit I don't always accept compliments regarding appearance graciously. I have a good friend I used to work with who always made a point to tell me how nice I looked or that she liked what I was wearing. Sometimes, this would be on days when I specifically just wanted to crawl into a hole because I felt I looked unkempt or fat, or frumpy, etc. And I know she was being genuine, but I could seriously not comprehend why anyone would think I looked nice that day. I would thank her and proceed with "I actually feel like X today so I'm surprised you think that," and laugh. I realize it's better to just say "Thank you", however it's difficult when one struggles with personal unhappiness about whatever the compliment is about. That said, when it happens to me the other way around and it's someone I think is so *obviously gorgeous or handsome or talented beyond argument, sometimes I do think their "Oh, this old thing" reaction is a crock of false modesty!!

  2. I couldn't accept compliments so graciously for all those years. It was because of my low self esteem thus I took things so seriously. I wasted all my years for that. However, now I read your article, you really gave readers including me an excellent advice about how to accept complements with gracious and how to handle ourselves. You gave us good examples too. I'll remember the red flag if I blush again. However, I will smile and say thank you the next time people give compliments. Thank you so much for writing this article.