Easier to Give, Harder to Take – How to Handle Compliments

Easier to Give, Harder to Take – How to Handle Compliments


Giving a simple compliment isn’t too hard.  We do it every day…

“Great job”
“Nicely done”
“Looking good”

What is much harder to do is to genuinely tell the person the WHAT & WHY of the compliment.  WHAT did you do that was so impressive, and WHY does it matter?   It is not enough to roll through with “Nice job Carl,” we need to take it a step further with “Nice job Carl, you handled XYZ situation very well and that is why our engaging customer service makes us successful.”  See, not too hard.  It took 7.4 extra seconds to extend that compliment (yep, I timed it).

I’ve attended workshops and read many books on how to effectively deliver sincere compliments, with practice this can be one of your strengths in making people around you feeling important.  But, I see and hear less about how we TAKE, or don’t take, compliments.  I would like to focus on the receiving of compliments now, as I believe it can be very difficult and takes a lot of practice and self awareness.

When I teach about this subject, I use that neon green ball you see in the photos to represent a compliment.  With a volunteer from the audience, we pass the “compliment” back and forth to show how we handle receiving a compliment.  If only I knew how to make GIFs!  The photos below will have to do for now.

Difficulty in accepting compliments is a reality, here’s 3 different ways we handle a compliment (shoot for #3)…

The Rejection


Answering “No, no, no…not me” to a compliment is a flat out rejection.  Low self esteem usually is the culprit behind The Rejection, feeling that one is not good enough for such flattery is very common.  Some of us might feel confident, but were taught growing up to be modest and humble, so we worry that we might come off cocky or arrogant.

Compliment – “Hey I like that colorful shirt!”

Answer – “Oh no, no, this old thing?”

The Deflection


This one cracks me up every time I hear it, a rejection is disguise!  We avoid accepting the compliment by shooting the same or similar compliment right back at the person.  This is another way to NOT accept the compliment, we’re cloaking a rejection wrapped in a compliment counter punch.

Compliment – “Hey I like that colorful shirt!”

Answer – “I like your shirt too!”

Accept (and Pass)


Why don’t we just accept the compliment?  We’re taught to be modest, we’re taught to be nice.  So rejecting or deflecting a compliment seems like the right thing to do.   But how does this make the person giving the compliment feel?  Probably not so good.  By not accepting their compliment you potentially turn a nice gesture into an awkward moment for both parties.

One of my mini-heros in my younger days was television journalist Tim Russert.  Meet The Press, NBC Nightly News, and many other programs fill his resume.  One day working at the pizza joint that I managed, Tim Russert himself walks in to pick up his order.  I stay cool and calm on the outside and say to him, “Mr. Russert, I love your show (Meet The Press) and wanted to say that you’re one of the best interviewers I’ve ever seen.”  He graciously responded with “Thank you, I really appreciate that.  I must say, I have a great team around me that makes it very easy for me and makes it all work”.  Wow.  He 100% accepted the compliment AND pushed it off onto his staff.  Class act.  A man of that character will always be missed, and always be needed.

Which one of these examples is you?  We tend to easily fall into the first two, but focusing on accepting the compliment is key.  If this is hard for you, just say thank you and smile.  Accept it, you can do this!  Once you get that down, try adding on another line of why the compliment is nice “Thanks, that’s means a lot” or “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”  When this becomes comfortable, try the “Accept & Pass” by giving credit to those who helped you get to the point where you could receive that compliment.  But…you must first accept, which feels strange and maybe a bit cocky.  But try it and see how it feels.  Once you become aware of how YOU accept (or don’t) compliments, pay attention to how others receive compliments and help them become better at accepting them.

The subject of compliments is vast and one that I love talking about, so please leave a comment, email me, text me, tweet me, stop by the Handlebar, or snap me (@socialbridge) your thoughts!

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