How to Accept a Compliment With Class

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 15, 2013 · 75 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

comp

You hand someone a gift and they eagerly tear off the wrapping paper and lift the lid on the box. But as they pick up and examine the present tucked inside, their smile quickly fades. “You know, this watch really isn’t right for me. Here, you can have it back.”

Ouch. Such behavior is so uncommon you may (thankfully) never have witnessed it or done it yourself. Yet the majority of us regularly do something very similar when it comes to accepting another kind of “gift”: compliments.

Even though we should all be offering more compliments, many of us struggle to do so. And yet graciously accepting compliments can be a challenge as well. We’re eager to get them and so pleased when we do, but then we utterly fumble their receipt. Instead of accepting compliments with pleasure and appreciation, we look for ways to downgrade, reject, and deflect their significance and value.

Learning how to best take a compliment is pretty easy (even if changing an ingrained behavior takes some practice). You simply have to understand 1) how you dismiss compliments, 2) why you have trouble accepting them outright, and 3) why and how you can graciously acknowledge and accept the praise of others.

10 Ways Compliments Are Dismissed

Sociolinguists place compliment responses into 3 main categories: Accept, Deflect, and Reject. These categories represent a spectrum, and most people aren’t uncomfortable at either extreme; outright denial seems rude but full acceptance feels conceited. Thus, most people seek what seems like a safe middle ground, choosing a deflecting response that dilutes and mitigates the compliment. They see compliments as hot potatoes that need to be tossed on as soon as they land in their hands.

In The Assertiveness Workbook, Randy Paterson lists some of the different ways we reject and deflect compliments, to which I’ve added a few I’ve observed myself.

1. Ignore

The recipient ignores the compliment, either because he didn’t hear it, or because he doesn’t recognize that he’s being complimented.

Compliment: “You played crazy good today – you were all over the court.”

Response: “Yeah, I’m really thirsty. Let’s stop for some Gatorade on the way home.”

2. Denial

The recipient denies the compliment outright.

Compliment: “You guys sounded so good tonight.”

Response: “Yeah right. We sounded like total crap.” 

3. Arguing

The recipient of the compliment argues against his deserving the given praise.

Compliment: “That was a really profound insight you brought up in class.”

Response: “Not really. Anyone who had read the previous cases would have come to the same conclusion.”

4. Self-Insult

The receiver downplays the praise by offering self-deprecating remarks.

Compliment: “That’s a really spiffy hat.”

Response: “Well I need something to draw attention from my ugly mug!”

5. Questioning

The receiver questions the giver’s judgment, taste, etc. in offering the compliment.

Compliment: “Your photography is definitely the best exhibit here.”

Response: “Are you kidding? You must not have gone to very many art shows in your life.”

6. Narrowing

The receiver whittles down a broader compliment into a smaller one.

Compliment: “You’re looking really dashing tonight.”

Response: “This tie can make any suit look good.”

7. Boomerang

In response to a compliment, the receiver fires one back.

Compliment: “That is one sweet ‘stache!”

Response: “Well that’s a heck of a manly beard you’ve got there!”

8. Reassurance

The receiver has trouble accepting the compliment and seeks confirmation.

Compliment: “Your speech was incredibly convincing.”

Response: “Do you really think so? I felt like I was floundering out there.”

9. De-Value

The recipient suggests that the thing being complimented isn’t as great as the complimenter is suggesting.

Compliment: “That’s a really handsome sweater.”

Response: “It’s so old. I’ve had it since high school.”

10. Credit Transfer

The recipient transfers the praise to others.

Compliment: “I think that was the best dance we’ve ever had.”

Response: “It was really Jill who did all the work and made it happen.”

Why We Deflect Compliments

Paterson gives the following reasons for why people struggle to fully accept a compliment, to which I’ve again added a couple reasons I also think bear mentioning.

Fear of being seen as conceited. This is by far the most common reason people deflect a compliment. They worry that by agreeing with someone else’s praise of them, they are essentially praising themselves and thus being smug.

The need to restore “balance.” Since a compliment is a positive act, you may feel a psychological need to balance things out by either negating the praise through deflection, or by quickly returning the compliment.

The desire to avoid “indebtedness.” This is the worry that if someone does something nice for you like offering a compliment, you will then “owe” them something nice in return and will thus be indebted to them in some way.

Having low self-esteem. If someone says something nice about you that you don’t believe about yourself, your immediate reaction will be to deny or disbelieve it. You can’t integrate the complimenter’s positive view of you into your own negative one, so you look for ways to find their assessment faulty – i.e., they missed the mistakes you made or they don’t have good judgment.

Inability to be assertive. Guys who struggle with being assertive often find accepting compliments to be a struggle. They have a hard time taking ownership of their positive qualities and feel like acknowledging praise isn’t something a “nice guy” would do.

Suspicion of motives. You may reject someone’s compliments if you’re suspicious that they’re just trying to flatter you and butter you up for some reason. This suspicion may be legitimate or it may come from an overly cynical worldview and be rooted in trust issues.

Desire to look even better. People will sometimes use false modesty as a way of trying to make themselves look even better. For example, Bob compliments Jake on giving a top-notch presentation, and Jake, who actually spent a few dozen hours preparing it, says, “Oh, it was just something I threw together.” Now Bob is thinking, “Wow, if he just threw that together, imagine what he could do if he spent a lot of time on something!” Alternatively, someone may seek to add modesty to the other qualities they’re being complimented on. So Mike tells Andy, “I really appreciate how thorough you made this report.” To which Andy responds, “It was nothing. Just doing my job.” Andy may want Mike to think, “He’s not only a diligent employee, but so humble to boot!”

Why You Should Graciously and Fully Accept Compliments

Sociolinguists have found that Americans respond to compliments with a deflecting response a whopping two-thirds of the time. While this kind of response may be popular, it’s not very smart or even polite. This is an area where you should definitely try to break the mold of the mainstream. Here’s why.

Denial and deflection insults the giver. When someone offers you a compliment, they’re saying that they’ve observed and assessed a praiseworthy quality in you. When you deflect or deny that praise, you’re basically contradicting them; you’re saying that they don’t have good judgment, discernment, or taste, or that they’re insincere – that they don’t know what they’re talking about. You’re returning their kind words with an insult.

Denial and deflection make the giver feel uncomfortable. When we dismiss a compliment because it makes us uncomfortable, we simply transfer that discomfort to the giver. Not only do you insult them, but as Paterson puts it, rejecting a compliment often makes the giver feel “awkward, uncomfortable, stupid, or frustrated.” Where do they go from there? They’re now stuck with the tiresome task of offering reassurance of their sincerity…”No I really do think so…”

Be a man and eat the discomfort yourself instead of tossing it back like a hot potato.

Denial and deflection decrease the likelihood of someone complimenting you again. When you always wave off people’s compliments, eventually they won’t bother to offer them at all anymore.

Denial and deflection diminishes your value. A compliment shows that someone sees value in you. When you dismiss those compliments you’re telling them that either you do not have the qualities they thought you did, or that you’re so insecure you can’t even recognize and/or acknowledge that you do. Either way, it diminishes your value in their eyes. This makes you unattractive to the ladies who like a man to be confident. It also isn’t impressive to your employer. If you’re always telling your boss that so-and-so is really the one who deserves all the credit for the success on a project, why should they give you a raise or even keep you around?

You lose out on the good feeling that comes with a compliment. Getting a nice compliment can make you feel great. But when you deflect and devalue the compliment instead of absorbing it, you also deflect the positive boost it could have given your self-esteem.

Boomerang compliments aren’t usually sincere. You may think that always responding to a compliment with one of your own is polite, but it’s not. A boomerang compliment signals that instead of listening to and absorbing someone’s praise, you were busy formulating your own compliment. And because people know it’s a knee-jerk behavior that’s designed to mitigate your own discomfort, that it’s more about you than it is about them, it doesn’t register as sincere. It’s far better to offer your own compliment at another, appropriate time, so that it comes off as spontaneous and authentic, rather than coerced. There are exceptions to this rule, of course (see below).

How to Accept a Compliment

The first step in quitting the faux modesty of the compliment deflection routine is to realize that fully accepting compliments does not make you conceited. You didn’t come up with the praise yourself, someone else did! You’re just confirming another person’s assessment, and again, it’s more polite to accept and appreciate their judgment rather than to contradict it.

Second, it’s okay to let yourself feel proud of something you did well. A little pride need not involve an inflated sense of your accomplishments or worthy qualities – just an honest assessment of what you did. It’s quite possible to be modest, while still being grateful and gracious.

So what’s the best response to a compliment? Get ready for it…”Thank you.” That’s it. There’s never a situation where a simple, unadorned thank you won’t work.

That being said, sometimes it’s more comfortable and quite appropriate to offer a follow-up to your “thank you,” or an amplifier that shows just how much the compliment meant to you.

Appropriate follow-ups to “Thank you”:

  • “I really enjoyed it.” “I’m glad it worked out so well.” If you feel uncomfortable just leaving it at “thank you,” try a neutral follow-up statement.
  • “It couldn’t have happened without Jason’s help.” Now, giving a knee-jerk response in which you deny all credit to yourself and transfer it to others is faux modesty. But, when other people really do deserve some credit for the things you’re being praised for, it’s appropriate to mention those folks, after accepting credit for your own role.
  • “I am happy I could help.” This is a good alternative to the “Just doing my job” deflection. Maybe you were just doing your job, but don’t rebuff and deny someone’s desire to show their appreciation for you. Instead, offer a “thank you” and tell them you’re happy you could be of assistance.
  • “You know, you also played great tonight; nice job!” The boomerang compliment can be appropriate when it’s truly sincere — praise you would have given anyway — and especially when you won’t see the person again (this is often the case in competition situations). Just be sure to offer your compliment after you’ve fully accepted the one you’ve been given.

If a compliment is particularly heartwarming or special to you, there’s nothing wrong with following up your “thank you” with an amplifier that tells the giver what the compliment means to you, how it makes you feel, or why you value it:

  • “That really means a lot.”
  • “I really appreciate you noticing that. No one ever has before.”
  • “I was feeling really down and this is just the encouragement I need to keep going.”

Now go forward and offer many more compliments to others and acknowledge and accept the ones that come your way with class!

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jed July 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm

This is what Art of Manliness is all about. Great article.

2 Jake July 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Great article! But what about when someone compliments one of your features? I had a random girl come up to me at the ATM and compliment my hair.

All I said was “thank you,” and I left it at that. How could I have taken that into a conversation?

3 andyinsca July 15, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I think this post is missing correct responses as examples.
1: “Thanks, it was a blast out there, thanks for joining me”
2: “Thanks, we were in the groove up there, it’s fun when it all falls together and people notice”
3: “Thanks, I’m glad I got to make that point”
4: Sometimes a plain old “Thanks” is all you need
5: I’m glad you liked it, which picture did you like the most and why?
6: See #4.
7: On something silly like this, a boomerang or self-deprecation is OK. “Thanks, tell my wife that!”
8: Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. What parts of it changed your mind?
9: See #4
10: You can assign the credit to others gracefully “Thanks, we all worked really hard up there, especially Jill”

The key is to say thanks, and then engage the other person, if possible. Not to draw more praise, but to get them to engage with you. Maybe you get tip from them “yes, but your part about XX was great, but I didn’t feel convinced about YY” This way, not only are you receiving the compliment gratefully, but this shows interest in what the other person is offering. This means that you appreciate the compliment, but that it’s actually valuable to you

4 andyinsca July 15, 2013 at 10:40 pm

And one mod to this: This is only applicable to the US & Canada. In Japan, if you’re complimented, the proper response is to self-deprecate. For example, I got complimented quite a bit on my Japanese when I was going to Japan quite a bit, and a humble response is/was ALWAYS correct. “Your Japanese is so good!” “Oh, I guess it’s OK for a gaijin.” (and, it’s an entree for the other person to offer to help, especially if complimenter is a Japanese lady willing to help you learn Japanese!)

5 Craig July 15, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Great post, Brett. This is something that I had to figure out on my own. I still mess up from time to time, but you definitely nailed the correct response.

6 Festus July 15, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Reading this, I felt like you are talking about me – really something that I can relate to. I can’t wait to have my next compliment:-)

7 Al July 15, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Nice article. I had a colleague who always answered compliments by denying them. Quite annoying. At first I thought she had low self confidence. Then I understood she was just fishing for more praise. My last compliment was ‘You did some great work on X project’, she said for the hundredth time ‘Not really, John is so much more skilled than me. He would have done it better’. John being the other guy we occasionally contracted for the same job. At that point I had enough and said ‘Yes, you are right. John is much better at this job than you are.’ She spend the next half hour complimenting herself and explaining to me that she was as good as John. I let her ramble on her own and never complimented her again about anything.

8 andyinsca July 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm

And another thing! (I clicked submit too quick!) At work, I get lots of compliments, because I’m a stud at what I do. When I get compliments at work, I’m careful to receive them gracefully, but I always include the other person/team in the compliment. For example: “Thanks for helping us with getting monitoring set up for project Foo. Your help was invaluable” response: “Thanks. I’m glad we could get this done for you. Don’t be shy if you have more questions or anything else you need” By saying “we” I’ve included the other guy in accomplishing the task. And by asking them to not be shy, I’m telling them that I’m ready and willing to work with them some more. I’ve accepted the compliment and told them that their input and continued questions/requests are welcome. This makes me into a guy they can work with and can count on.

Note that this does NOT mean I don’t do silly responses to compliments, especially with teams/people I work with frequently. I sometimes answer a compliment with “s’why I get paid the big bucks” because they know me and it’s fun to respond with stuff like that :)

9 JD July 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Excellent read – as always!

I found the observation that 1/3rd of Americans do not deflect. That’s a big percentage, in my book.
Being from an Eastern culture myself, I can tell you that there are many parts of the world where accepting a compliment is practically a taboo. Infact, you are expected to ‘boomerang’, or even ‘deny’ outright.

10 andyinsca July 15, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Jake: The answer is “I’m glad you like it. I had it done at Super-Duper-Sexy-Barber shop. It’s a new look for me, I used to have it longer. But your hair, wow! That’s a great look for you!” but if it’s something silly, like your nose (I have a VERY “Roman” nose) my answer would be “Yes, it does look like a Julius Cesar nose on one of his coins” is a fun way to respond. Typically, when someone (esp. a female complimenting a male on a feature) they’re looking for you to be social with them. Engage them! Make them respond to your thanks!

11 Chris July 15, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Jake, maybe you could have said, “Why thank you! And thank you for taking the time to pay me a compliment. Could you indulge me with just a few more minutes over a coffee nearby?”

12 Clayton July 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm

What a great and pertinent article. I have always struggled with accepting compliments – I have vivid memories of deflecting sincere compliments from my dad as I grew into a man.

As I try to develop my character, accepting compliments – assertiveness in general – continues to be a major focus.

13 Andrew C. July 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm

This is a timely article for me. I’m starting a career in the “real world,” and I’m always terribly uncomfortable when I receive a compliment. My reflexive reaction is to self-deprecate or diminish the compliment. When I think about it, that’s probably the worst response possible. It’s like telling the compliment giver, “You really don’t know what you’re talking about, idiot.” That’s certainly not the way I want to come across, but subtly I think that’s the message I’m sending. I’m going to work on receiving compliments more graciously AND giving compliments more often when they are merited.

14 DJ July 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm

@Jake:

I’m assuming she was attractive. Why else would you want to start a conversation? Assuming that, you could have said “thank you! I’m glad you noticed it. I think your dress/purse/shoes looks good too.” That’s a conversation starter right there. Just depends how you run with it.

15 Brett McKay July 15, 2013 at 11:35 pm

@Jake-

That’s a good question and how one would turn a compliment exchange into a conversation is something I thought about while writing this post. The truth is that offering a compliment is a poor way to get a conversation going (the best way is to make an observation about “your shared mutual reality”). No matter your response to a compliment, things can easily and quickly stall out. Obviously a plain “thank you” doesn’t give the other person something to riff on. Returning the compliment still makes it tough for the other person to come up with a response that keeps the conversation going. Like telling her where you got your hair cut and then complimenting her hair…what should she say next? If she just says thank you, things have stalled out again. The best option when you’re trying to keep a convo going after getting a compliment is definitely a follow-up question for the other person and andyinsca has some good suggestions on this front. But even this can be difficult — especially if it’s about one of your physical traits. And even if it’s about something more “abstract” like a speech you gave, if it’s hard to get past feeling conceited in fully accepting the compliment, it’s harder to not feel conceited asking which part of something you did that they liked that they liked the most. A good option is just to ask a question that changes the subject and opens up a new avenue of dialogue. Chris has got a good suggestion, if you’re feeling confident. Or tack a question onto your return compliment. “Thank you. Your hair looks really nice too. Are you headed out tonight?”

TL;DR: It’s best not to start a conversation with a compliment. If someone tries to do it with you, try to add a follow-up question onto to your “thank you” to keep the dialogue going.

16 Michael M. July 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Brett and Kate, excellent article!

17 Jared July 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm

If I’m payed a compliment or recognized for an effort, I usually respond with a “Thank you. I’ll take that!” or a “Hell yeah I did a good job! ” and encourage everyone else to continue complimenting me. Usually strikes up a few laughs but know the time to do it and clearly use it in a sarcastic manner. Good read….

18 jdude July 16, 2013 at 7:00 am

Wonderful article. I do have to agree with on several points. For example, when given a compliment for a project at work, good managers often make sure to credit the team as well. It’s being fair and does much for happy employees.

19 Chuck July 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

I used to always deflect. Then I heard the quote somewhere that “…to deny a complement is to seek it twice” or something to that affect.

Since then, I’ve tried to stick with a simple “thank you”

20 Will July 16, 2013 at 7:39 am

Great article. So many people just don’t understand that all they need to say is “Thank you.” Glad you spelled it out so succinctly. I hope some folks will benefit from this!

21 Paul Kalra July 16, 2013 at 8:25 am

This is good advice if you’re in America, but in my experience it is hit or miss in different countries. In the UK, self-deprecation is the norm, so sometimes a “thank you” will put people off. Over there it’s better to downplay what you have accomplished.

22 Josh July 16, 2013 at 8:27 am

Great post. Something I am actively working on right now!

23 Nish July 16, 2013 at 9:26 am

There is one scenario that is not covered here. I know of a person who complimented me on something. We got into conversation and I found that he is not even aware of the work for which I am being praised for. Now that was insincere. Not only insincere, this is the majority I see around – people who just want to say good things so that they do not offend anyone. I would prefer an honest and rude person rather than this masquerading. I do not know how to respond to compliments of such people again; you know that they are just saying it- they do not mean it. Now you can say “Thank You” and put a full stop to the conversation but you already have a bad taste in your mouth. People like these end up spreading distrust and “fake-ness” (could not think of an appropriate word). That is the reason I believe that people start deflecting and ignoring because they are just not sure if it is really a sincere compliment. If anyone has faced the same, do comment. I would like to know views of author as well on this topic.

24 Peter July 16, 2013 at 9:41 am

Thank you for the great article. While you’re engaged in this, any ideas on how to make the standard response “No problem.” disappear in the service industry? I always assume it’s not a problem since the service is the job, but it’s always polite to thank someone for their service.

25 Josh K July 16, 2013 at 10:05 am

Great article. I realized a while ago that I don’t care for false humility in others and decided that I probably shouldn’t display it myself. If someone compliments me, I always try to just say, “Thank you.” Sometimes I follow it up with something, particularly if the compliment seems especially sincere or perceptive. I’ve found that simply accepting the compliment actually makes you appear more genuine to others. C.S Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

26 M July 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

Nice article.

One thing that I’ve struggled with recently is when one gets a compliment on a strictly purchased item….a phone, a car, a bike, a shirt, etc.

In that case, I personally don’t like to say “thanks” in the same way as some of the examples related to personal performance above (presentation, sport performance, etc.) since I didn’t design/make it….but am not sure what to say.

27 Bernard July 16, 2013 at 10:19 am

Another thought, if you feel “thanks” is not enough you might say, “Thank you, that’s kind of you to say.”

It shows your appreciation and bolsters the esteem of the one giving the compliment.

28 Paul July 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm

How about compliments based on assumption rather than observation? I study physics, and when it comes up in small talk I often hear, “Wow, you must be really smart.” Indeed, I am smarter than the average bear, but it feels lofty to accept and affirm their compliments when they’ve never seen my work, or even had a full conversation with me.

Or sometimes, people immediately self-deprecate with, “You’re smarter than me.” Yes, I am? No, I’m not? Thank you? Isn’t the weather lovely? I’m well aware that a person could outshine me in brilliance even if they’re bad at physics, and on the spot it seems impossible to know and arrogant for me to assume. What is a proper response to this?

29 Ryan July 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Really enjoyed the article. Well written and on a topic we all can relate to. Good job!

30 Todd July 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm

This is really good. The first I’ve read on the subject–and I realize that I deflect more often than I thought.

31 Tim Robertson July 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Appreciate the reminder to say thanks and enjoy the gift.

32 Catherine July 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Thank you for this article, I am definitely going to share it with others and use all the tips myself! One thing I was wondering, how does one add an amplifier for something we have no control over? Like “You have beautiful eyes” or “you have a great voice” or “I really love the way you look in that dress.” So not our own doing or talents but just things about us? Thanks again!

33 Alan Andrews July 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Great article. I’ve caught myself using some of those deflections on occasion, but have worked at accepting compliments more graciously. I know a lot of people very close to me, both men and women, who really need to read this. I’ve spoken with them about it frequently.

34 Moldy July 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I am one of those who never believes compliments most of the time for sake of being polite I will say thank you instead of the awkward deflection or minimizing the compliment. How can I accept a different view of myself instead of my own negative view and thus accept compliments as sincere and positive things to see in myself instead of denying or thinking those complimenting are just dumb or don’t know me?

35 becky July 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm

How do you accept a compliment made to you about one of your children? Is:” wow billy is so smart he talks so well!”…”thank you”? I always feel like when I say thank you I am taking credit for something that is really not my own when it comes to my kids. How about ” wow your baby is so adorable, look at all that hair!”?? I never know. Any ideas?

36 Caíque Tostes July 16, 2013 at 6:56 pm

The Art of Manliness is always surprising me with these great articles! Thank you so much!

37 Steve July 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Another reason for waving off a compliment might be fear of success; that is, setting too high a standard for oneself. Suppose you can’t keep up that level of performance, suppose this was just a fluke, suppose you going to be expected to “hit a home run” every time?

38 Susie July 17, 2013 at 7:08 am

This is great. Now, how about a post telling men (and all of us) how to “take” an insult.

39 Zach July 17, 2013 at 10:32 am

I’ve been living in Japan almost a year now, and the culture regarding compliments is VERY different. The way that one graciously accepts any form of praise in Japanese society is to deny it. If you were to accept a compliment right away, it would be seen as rude. It was very refreshing to read something like this.

40 Matthew Spencer-Kociol July 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I often default to deflection tactics 6, 7 and 10. I like to think that I’m sharing the good vibes and intend to make the giver of the complement feel good himself, while not overdoing the modesty bit. I think displays of modesty are actually quite important, just as important as accepting compliments gracefully. I’ve noticed ladies are much better at accepting compliments than men in day to day social encounters (women probably have to deal with small talk more than men regarding complements like “you look nice today” etc.)

Why do a lot of people in general, not just men, have trouble accepting compliments? I’d say look at our role models: Presidents, World Leaders, Spiritual Leaders, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and great writers, scientists and thinkers. What they all have in common is the awkward or difficult task of accepting praise on a regular basis, and more often then not, these people REALLY couldn’t have gotten where they are today without a little bit of luck and support. These are people we look up to, but at the same time, we watch their acceptance speeches and expect them to display modesty at every chance they are given while we simultaneously slather them with boatloads of praise. Faux modesty or overt displays of the real stuff, is an excellent diplomatic and political skills as much as it is to accept compliments with grace.

41 Maxwell July 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm

This was a very well written article, thank you for sharing.

42 Omar July 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Jake,

You’ve already received some good answers here, but I’d like to add my own.

If someone compliments you about how your hair looks (or something similar), thanking them obviously comes first.

The next thing you do is offer your name.

“Thank you! I appreciate that. My name is Omar.”

And then you offer your hand for a handshake.

A new person is a new person. Once you introduce yourself, you have levelled the playing field and you are able to ask questions that aren’t related to the compliment.

From this point on, it’s just like meeting any other stranger. After they offer up their name (let’s say it was Mindy), you can say something like:

“Pleasure to meet you, Mindy! So, what were you up to before you noticed my hair? On your way somewhere?”

See where I’m going with this? You open the opportunity for her to talk about herself, and you prompt her with something she can deny or confirm and add details to. If she was outgoing enough to approach you directly, she’s probably going to be outgoing enough to offer that information, too.

Hope that helps!

43 Sam July 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm

“One of the things I’d learned in the past year and a half was how to take a compliment. Just say, ”Thank you.“ It’s the only response a confident person can make.”
- Neil Strauss, The Game

44 Brett McKay July 17, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Some great comments, questions, and suggestions here.

@Peter-
Ha! That’s my father-in-law’s big pet peeve. Why would performing the service have potentially been a problem? I’m not sure there’s any way of making it go away. Just keep thanking people because you’re a gentleman and tolerate their response.

@M-
I think it’s okay to say a simple “thanks” when someone compliments you on a purchased item. You don’t have to amplify it beyond thanks and you’re right that it doesn’t mean as much as other compliments, but they’re still complimenting your taste, so thanks is appropriate.

@Catherine-
I think “That’s so nice of you to say,” or “I really appreciate you noticing that” would be appropriate amplifiers.

@Becky-
That’s a great question. I feel awkward responding to compliments about my kid too. I try to stick with agreeing with them, like “We think he’s pretty cute too.” Or, “we think he’s a keeper too.” Or if they compliment him for being smart, “I tell ya, the kid really loves the alphabet.”

@Susie-
It’s on the future to-do list.

@Omar-
Good suggestion.

@Paul-
Good question–has me stumped. Maybe somebody else can shed some light on that dilemma.

45 P.M.Lawrence July 18, 2013 at 2:07 am

Occasionally, people compliment me on something that I do not like that may even have been forced on me. Not only does that rub in the thing I don’t like, it tells me that they either don’t share my values or were being insincere – trying to manipulate me to make things friendly. Either way, I want to distance myself from them. Although I don’t specially want to offend them, it doesn’t bother me if I do; after all, it might discourage them.

46 Jason July 18, 2013 at 4:49 am

Good article – I naturally boomerang compliments back, which I want to stop.

I once saw an episode of the Jonathan Ross show with Russell Brand. When Brand came from the green room, Ross complimented him on his dashing appearance, to which Brand replied “Thank you Jonathan, that is a kind thing to say to a man.”
Think what you may about Russell Brand – I loved the simple and open way he accepted the compliment.

47 Dave July 18, 2013 at 6:50 am

Brett & Kate, I wish you had been around to write that ~50 years ago. Thanks to lifelong low self-esteem, accepting compliments has always been a huge struggle. The worst aspect is appearance related. I have always considered myself physically unattractive and therefore could not imagine anyone else thinking otherwise. So on those rare occasions when a girl/woman said I was cute, I was totally at a loss for a response, and the result was total denial. The nadir came ~30 years ago when a female co-worker called me “irresistible” and “gorgeous,” partly because to that point she seemed not to have even noticed me. Since I was already married nothing was going to come of it, but at least I should have thanked her for the huge ego boost.

—–
@Catherine (#32): Your “look good in that dress” comment reminds me of a joke I read as a kid, where a man tries to tell a woman that she reminds him of an acquaintance.

Man: “Excuse me, but you look like Helen Green.”
Woman: “Well, I look even worse in purple.”

48 SicSemperTyrannis July 18, 2013 at 6:52 am

I never thought before about how common it is to refuse compliments. There have been times when I actually have forced people to accept them.

Once I was in a group of people who were discussing a young woman’s painting. It was clearly, obviously a superior work – and she was uncomfortable with that. After her fourth or fifth refusal of a compliment, she stated “But anybody could do that.” And it’s true, she was in the company of several people who *could*. So I replied: “That may be, but you DID do it.”
That seemed to make it stick. ;)

49 Brett July 18, 2013 at 7:27 am

Awesome article.

@Paul-
I am by no means an expert but how about these:
1. “Wow, you must be really smart.” – “Thank you. XX is very interesting to me, so I have devoted my time to studying it.” You are accepting the compliment that you are seen as an expert but not being smug by saying you are brilliant.
2. “You’re smarter than me.” – “I have studied XX for a long time and really enjoy it.” I don’t really know if this is as much a compliment for you as it is self deprecating of the giver, so thank you is not appropriate. However, ignoring the comment would not be appropriate either. This would be affirming (even though it is not your responsibility) that if they studied something they would know a lot about it too.

50 Jake July 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Wow, thanks everyone for the replies! I lost that first battle with ATM girl, but next time I will be prepared :)

51 josh k July 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Great article, great skils, something i’ve wrestled with myself plenty of times.

52 Bill Jones July 18, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Brett McKay

“How do you accept a compliment made to you about one of your children? Is:” wow billy is so smart he talks so well!”…”thank you”? I always feel like when I say thank you I am taking credit for something that is really not my own when it comes to my kids. How about ” wow your baby is so adorable, look at all that hair!”?? I never know. Any ideas?”

You could try, “Genius is said to skip a generation.”

Accepts the compliment with the added bonus of self deprecation

53 Rks1157 July 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Another way to accept a compliment and give something back in return….

“do you really think so? I’ve never thought that way myself. Thank you, you’ve made my day.”

54 M.W.M July 20, 2013 at 11:44 am

My honest thanks to Author’s Brett and Kate McKay. This article was very helpful.

55 Beau July 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm

To Peter,
Instead of “No Problem”, our associates are trained to say, “It was my pleasure.”

56 Nico July 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Love your work as always…

Found this video and it’s so applicable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzlvDV3mpZw

57 Josh July 24, 2013 at 2:19 am

“I appreciate you for noticing that.” This is my favorite. I started telling people “I appreciate you” instead of “I appreciate it” and it helps me direct my thanks more directly to a person and their character than to their (sometimes habitual) action. Someone said it to me once and it was like being told I saved their life for holding open a door.

58 Attila Borborygmi July 28, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Great article. It’s something I’ve noticed in many people, particularly in those who are very capable in their own right but with few leadership skills.

59 Rufus T. Firefly July 28, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Great article. Thanks for pointing out things to us that we should know but forget. We should definitely remember those times that WE compliment someone and how we feel when they reject, deflect, neutralize or otherwise fail to fully accept the compliment.

I think my main reasons for sometimes being averse to compliments is that I have one or all three of these internal responses: 1) “Gee, I guess this is only one of a few times I’ve done something noteworthy. I must be mediocre or sucky with my other accomplishments,” 2) “Oh s**t! They’re going to expect more of me in the future! What if I can’t deliver to the same level again?” or 3) “Why is this person babying me? How insulting!”

Lotsa work for me on this area of my life!

60 mithun July 29, 2013 at 7:07 am

this is just awesome….just when I thot you could not come up with anything better than the last sunglass thingy….you did it again….
this is exactly The Art of Manliness!

61 mic July 29, 2013 at 10:25 am

Reading this website makes me feel so in peace. The articles are always so clear, so well organized, so much to the point. This is no exception: after I read it, I started noticing this behavior in me and others, and how much I was bothered by people not able to accept compliments made me understand how rude I am when I do the same. Keep up with your good work, and thanks!

62 Joe July 29, 2013 at 10:41 am

@Paul, #28 – receiving an assumed complement can be a bit tricky. In a situation like this you can say “thank you,” but they are not making an observation, just an assumption. You can affirm their assumption without sounding conceded by letting them know a bit more about the field. They assume you are smart because physics may have been hard for them. If you say something along the lines of “My mind just sort of works better with numbers for some reason” or “I just really enjoy trying to break down how the world around us works.” You are not saying they are wrong about how smart you must be If you are in a small-talk situation, this is also a great segway into a possible interesting concept that you may be working on, or a cool study that you may have read: “For instance, did you know that there is a researcher right now that doesn’t think the universe is actually expanding. Rather, she submits that everything in the universe is slowly gaining mass. (at least that’s what i tell myself every morning when i get on the scale. -pause for polite laughter-)”
Conversely, you could say someting along the lines of “Just in some areas, you should talk to my wife about how dumb I can be with basic life skills.” Then you could either tell an amusing anecdote about losing your car keys every morning, or jump back into something cool about physics. The possibilities are endless!

63 DustyGolds July 29, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Outstanding article!
Boomerang compliments aren’t usually sincere. Instead of listening, you were busy formulating your own compliment.

Thank you.

64 wewillbegods July 31, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Excellent response, Joe@Paul. I’m awed by big brains, high creatives, and very educated people because I’m none of those. High school education, spent most of my working life in factories. When highly educated people tell me I’m “so” intelligent I’m completely flummoxed and have no idea what to say, because I’m not. I’m the one with the life skills. I’m thoughtful and articulate, but probably average in intelligence. I don’t recall even one instance of my handling that compliment gracefully. This is my first visit here – what an interesting blog.

65 Mental Invalid August 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm

This brings a smile to my face. Love it!

66 Brian Schmied August 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Good Article. A little longer than necessary though.

When you get a compliment, look them in the eyes and say “Thank you, I do my best.”

67 Kris Wolfe September 9, 2013 at 2:09 am

Scanning through the articles, and came across this one. Good stuff. I realized I’m a terrible compliment acceptor. “Thank you.”

68 Juell October 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

I receive a frequent comment that is presented as a compliment (“Whoa, your hair is sooo long!”), but I never know what to say. Of course I thank them and smile, but that feels like a silly response, because they’re not necessarily saying that they like my length. They’re just expressing an observation. I can’t say, “Yep, it sure is.” or “Thanks for noticing.”. I would love ideas/suggestions.

69 Mac November 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I have been complimented on my intelligence for as long as I remember. At this point, when someone tells me how intelligent I am I just put on a smile and change the subject. I know it’s not nice but I just get tired of it.
When I’m complimented about something else, like my music playing, then I give them a sincere thanks.

70 Watesh November 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I love the boomerang, but sometimes it hard when you find nothing to compliment them on

71 Alex November 23, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Paul – I have that problem a lot. I am attractive, well-dressed, well-educated, and accomplished in many areas. Obviously, I don’t make this my elevator speech, but people I’ve known for a short time are often impressed and intimidated as they learn more about me. When people compliment my abilities, I accept the compliment graciously and add that I have worked hard developing the skills and knowledge I have. When people ask, “Is there anything you can’t do?” I laugh appreciatively and remark that dancing isn’t my strong suit.

The thing I cannot get used to, though, is the self-deprecation. If their self-appraisal (of being less intelligent, less fashionable, less beautiful, etc. than I) seems right, I don’t feel like I’m treating them with the respect they deserve if I respond with a white lie – which, like in the case of refusing a compliment, seems a little like an insult to their intelligence – but I also want to be kind. Anybody have suggestions about how to handle this situation gracefully?

72 Ryan December 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm

As per usual, great article (notice my compliment?). Basically, as everything in our culture, it’s just best to tell the truth. We can act so phony sometimes it’s pathetic. More authenticity please!!

73 yair December 31, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Thank you. This article is really helpful for me.

74 Sieg January 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

Any sincere compliment deserves an equally sincere rejoinder. “Thank you, that’s very kind of you.”

75 Paul January 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm

It’s been while since I’ve visited this page, but thank you Brett and Joe for your thoughtful responses!

@Alex — Nowadays, my standard response to self-deprecating comments is a polite chuckle with “I don’t know about that!” It doesn’t put them down, nor is it disrespectfully dishonest. This is perhaps best with “You’re smarter than me”: a minute of small talk really isn’t enough to make judgments on their intelligence, so indeed I don’t know! I usually follow it up by mentioning we each have our strong suits, and I for one am glad that not everyone is good at theoretical physics—nothing useful would ever get done! Cue questions about their interests.

If they’re saying “You’re more beautiful than me,” I think a similar approach may work. Much of appearance is exercise, grooming, dress, and context, so it’s possible that they could be more beautiful in different circumstances. You could honestly offer something like, “I don’t know about that! It’s amazing what a good suit can do.” Perhaps follow with a specific compliment about their current dress or appearance, and then change the subject.

If their comment is instead, “I wish I were as clever/beautiful/… as you,” then I think it’s appropriate to turn it back on them. Perhaps begin with a polite “I’m flattered, but …” and then focus on things they have control over. For intelligence, mention the importance of dedicated study in getting you where you are, find out what they’re interested in, and encourage them to pursue it. For appearance, mention the importance of wardrobe or a good haircut, and recommend some some of your favorite shops or barbers, along with places you go for fashion articles/advice (AoM?). Since they see you as an authority on the subject, maybe even make a specific suggestion: “Have you ever tried a trenchcoat? I think you might look good in one …”

And I’m with you: Dancing isn’t my strong suit, though contra dancing is a rollicking good time. :)

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