How to Respond to Compliments When You’re Not Sure How to Respond

Everyone reacts to compliments differently. Some people love them. Thrive on them, even. If verbal affirmation is your love language, nothing lights up your day like receiving a positive comment. At work, it might be praise about how well you handled a recent project. Among friends, it might be compliments about your new haircut or shoes.

While most people appreciate at least some positive affirmation, not everyone does. Some people, for example, feel a little put on the spot — maybe even embarrassed — when people compliment them. There are some people who just aren’t used to verbal affirmation and may even feel a little uncomfortable when someone else gives them praise.

Others feel like they don’t deserve the compliment. Maybe they’re being complimented individually for something that was a team effort. Maybe they feel like they’re being complimented for something that wasn’t a huge deal. Maybe they feel like the thing they’re being praised for wasn’t all that great. Still others may feel like they’re on the receiving end of false flattery.

What do you do in those situations? What’s the best way to respond when you’re not a big compliment person, or when you’re not sure you did something worthy of such praise?

A Side Note

Before we continue, let’s talk briefly about one other situation. In some cases “compliments” can be unwanted and unwelcome advances, such as when a woman receives catcalls on the street. That’s not a compliment or praise: that’s harassment. Rachael has written about that situation, and how to handle it. If you’re trying to decide how to deal with that, you can read more right here. It’s not an easy situation to deal with.

This post isn’t about harassment.

So How To Respond?

No matter how you feel about receiving compliments, there is a simple way to respond that works in many, if not most situations.

Thank you.

That’s it. Often, you don’t even need to say anything else unless you want to. Just those two words.

And sometimes it’s good to not add anything else, especially if what you’re adding undercuts the compliment. If your co-worker compliments your work, you don’t necessarily need to emphasize that it’s not that good. Same if your friend compliments your outfit.

Of course, sometimes it is necessary to add more. If your boss praises your work but there is a serious issue in the work they need to know about it before it gets delivered to a client, then, yes, you probably want to add more.

But often it can be just as golden to use those two words — thank you — and leave it at that.

So if you’re a person who doesn’t always know how to handle praise, or who doesn’t feel deserving of it, make a point to respond to praise with those two words. Because when you do, you’re not just thanking someone for the compliment: when it’s a genuinely nice person, you’re thanking them for noticing you and taking the time and effort to express appreciation for something you’ve done. That’s a far better situation than people who are so self-absorbed they never even bother to express any interest in the accomplishments of other people.

I know some people who have such a hard time with praise they’ll ignore the praise entirely. Someone will tell them they did a good job, and they’ll pivot to another subject. And, again, I’m not talking about harassment, but sincere praise from someone they have a good relationship with.

I don’t think that’s the best response. Because when a person essentially refuses to acknowledge a compliment, they may be sending the message — whether they realize it or not — that the compliment doesn’t matter. It’s no different than ignoring anything else the person might have said. No one likes to be ignored, especially when they give a gift … in this case, a gift of positive affirmation.

Again, that’s why a simple thank you can be the easy response.

Does thank you work for flattery, too? It can. I’ve been on the receiving end of false flattery from salespeople, friends selling products, and, yes, even children. I say thank you in those situations, too. Why? It acknowledges receiving the flattery and allows me to move on. Because if the car salesman says, “you have great taste in cars,” saying “thank you” lets me close out that tangent and steer the conversation back toward what’s important, which is getting the best deal on the car. I prefer that to getting bogged down in a discussion over whether the praise is deserved or not. That thank you has a different aim than the one I give to a family member, but it also serves a good purpose.

Closing Thoughts

Everyone handles praise a little differently. Some people like it, and others would rather not get it at all. Some people practically ignore compliments.

I think, though, that there is a simple and safe way to deal with them. A simple thank you tells the giver that you received the compliment and that you appreciated it. It frees you from having to say anything else, if that’s what you prefer. And, in a sense, it’s a way of sending a little praise back to the person who gave you the compliment, telling them you appreciate them taking the time and thought.

It’s a good reminder for the next time someone says something nice about you.

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