How to Accept a Compliment With Class

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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.”

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