Isn’t it strange how hard it is to respond to a compliment?
We squirm and deflect and awkwardly shuffle our feet in the face of such overt niceness.
Social anxiety, burnout, and social media facades can cripple our self-esteem, so we don’t know how to genuinely accept a compliment.
Despite all the research showing positive feedback can keep employees (and all of us) more motivated and help our mental health, our brain still has this nagging habit of shutting down when we are given positive reinforcement.
For just a few moments, let’s quiet our inner critics and learn how to reply to compliments with poise and confidence.
How Do You Accept a Compliment?
Learning what to say when someone compliments you is like a battle of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Coming in too hot with ego can be cringy while coming in too cold and dismissive can make the other person feel awkward.
You want to find the “just right” way to accept a compliment.
- Keep It Simple: When in doubt, say less. Simply offer a sincere “Thank You,” and leave it at that. Resist the urge to talk yourself out of the compliment.
- Be Gracious: If you sorely need that compliment, let the person know how appreciated it is. You’re giving your own form of positive reinforcement to the compliment giver.
- Accept the Oscar: When Hollywood’s finest get an Oscar at the elaborate ceremony, you’ll notice they give credit where it’s due. Mimic that by expressing how much others support your path to success.
- Don’t Stop It: Let the person express their thoughts without interrupting or shutting them down, no matter how embarrassed you might feel. You’ll practice grace and self-awareness by doing so, giving a double benefit to the compliment.
Even with backhanded compliments, just dismiss them without emotion to avoid letting them know they have power over your emotions.
How to Respond to a Compliment: 13 Gracious Ways with Examples
Leading with grace is the most crucial rule when someone gives you a compliment. Since many compliments come unexpectedly, it helps to have a few baseline acceptance lines to help ward off wrong responses.
1. Be Honest
Even if a compliment catches you off guard while your face is flushing and your heart rate is pounding, it’s okay to let someone know it was unexpected but appreciated.
Compliment: “Glad I caught you on your way out the door. You rocked that presentation today. Great work!”
Wrong: Awkward silence while you fidget. “Oh, um, thanks; I mean, I messed up page three, and PowerPoint wasn’t playing videos, and uh, but I can do better.”
Right: Take a deep breath to gather your thoughts. “You caught me off guard with that one, and I’m not the best at accepting compliments, but it is much appreciated.”
2. Be Kind (To Yourself)
Superstar Keanu Reeves was famously offered a compliment where he was told how everyone laments he’s such a nice guy.
Keanu stirred in his seat, mumbling, “That’s ridiculous,” and added with agitation, “I mean, it’s nice to hear, but it’s not true.” But it is so true of him.
Compliment: “Your organizational skills are so impressive. I could learn a lot from you.”
Wrong: “Are you crazy? I’m a hot mess and can’t even organize dinner. Thanks, but you have the wrong idea.”
Right: “I’ve been working on organization, and it’s nice to hear that it’s apparent to others. We should collaborate sometime.”
3. Be Proud
For every person who claims they never get positive feedback, you can find a person who has diminished their efforts. You did work hard, and you do deserve credit.
Compliment: “You have the best-behaved dog in puppy class. It’s clear you do your handbook homework.”
Wrong: “I try, but he still won’t stop barking at the mailman, and it drives me crazy.”
Right: “I have been working so hard, and this is much more challenging than I thought it would be. I appreciate you taking the time to tell me that.”
4. Be Engaged
Even if you faked your way through a success (like a video presentation that wouldn’t play, so you had to wing it), it’s still okay to own up to your success while realizing there was room for improvement.
Compliment: “I would never have been able to handle a video meltdown like that. You did a superb job ad-libbing!”
Wrong: “I literally almost peed my pants, and I still think I might vomit. I’m just glad it’s over.”
Right: “Thank you! That was a close call, but my acting classes paid off.”
5. Be Humble
Not everyone shuns sweet words. Some people expect or encourage them. If you fall into this category, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your work. You just don’t have to rub people’s faces in it.
Compliment: “You are the highest-grossing salesperson again! I am so envious, but great work. You are an inspiration!”
Wrong: “I know, right? I am killing it right now. I also lost 10 pounds and got invited to dinner with the corporate team. I am really the king of this castle.”
Right: “You guys motivate me to keep excelling and offer stiff competition. I really appreciate your kind words.”
6. Be Succinct
A compliment can open the floodgates of emotions, and suddenly a nice word in passing turns into a therapy session at the copier. Don’t over-explain yourself or go on a tangent.
Compliment: “I liked the way you handled that conflict. You were fair but didn’t take sides. Good job.”
Wrong: “OMG. These people were CRAZY to deal with. First, it started when Bonnie told Sarah she was being lazy, and then Sarah called me and said……….”
Right: “It’s nice of you to say that. Our team is stronger because of everyone working toward a solution.”
7. Be Part of a Team
As we touched on earlier, you want to give praise where it’s due for a success that involves multiple people. Those who are prone to dismiss compliments could end up passing off all the credit to others.
Compliment: “Congratulations on winning the team competition. You are a fierce leader and deserved the win.”
Wrong: “I didn’t really do anything. Bob did the tech stuff, and Tina took care of the creative. Wendy made cookies. I just sat back and watched it happen.”
Right: “We really hustled as a team. I will be sure to pass that along to Bob, Tina, and Wendy. They each brought a unique aspect.”
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8. Be Focused On Just One Compliment
When one compliment comes in, we can become ravenous for more. Don’t let that desire take over, especially if it’s something you don’t interact with that much.
Compliment: “You are the best volunteer we had at that event. Keep up the good work.”
Wrong: “Thank you. Did you like the place cards? What about the emcee? Should I have been more focused on the people or the process?”
Right: “Thank you. I really want to keep the moment. This work soothes my soul. Could we meet for coffee sometime to do a debrief? I have some follow-up questions, and I’d love your experienced feedback.”
9. Don’t Assume Your Loved Ones Must Love All You Do
Our parents and friends might love us unconditionally, but they don’t always love everything we do. Don’t dismiss parents expressing pride or friends bragging about you.
Compliment: “You looked stunning in your new dress. That color works wonderfully with your skin tone.”
Wrong: “You’d think orange with neon green trash bags would look good on me.”
Right: “Your praise means so much to me. Thanks for always being supportive.”
10. Be Succinct
When it doubt, follow the Ocean’s 11 line of “Don’t use seven words when four will do.” The less you say in uncomfortable compliments, the more likely you will come out unscathed.
Compliment: “You deserve that Employee of the Month award for all you do around here.”
Wrong: “No, I don’t. How did this happen? I hate attention. My boss knows that. Ugh.”
Right: Use any of these phrases when you don’t know what to say.
- “Thank you.”
- “I appreciate that.”
- “That’s nice of you to say.”
11. Be Serious
Humor is a coping mechanism used to ease tension and avoid awkward encounters. You can be funny without using humor to deflect a nice comment.
Compliment: “Congratulations on your first marathon! You were so dedicated to training.”
Wrong: “I was just pretending the cops were chasing me like when I was a drunk underage spring breaker in Daytona!”
Right: “It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but I’m proud too. Thanks for saying that.”
12. Be Aware When You Do It Wrong
Look, you aren’t going to get it right all the time. Forgive yourself for a botched response of praise. Circle back around and start over again.
Compliment: “I love the creative space you’ve built in your cubicle. It’s so warm and cozy in an otherwise bland setting.”
Wrong: Any combination of wrong answers you might have said.
Right: “The other day, you said something really nice to me, and I was rather dismissive of it. I wanted to let you know I appreciated what you said, even if it didn’t come across that way.”
Bonus Right: “I’m not sure if it was clear the other day, but I couldn’t stop smiling the other night after you said XYZ.”
13. Be Aware of Non-Verbal Compliments
While there are many interpretations of the famous Oscar Wilde quote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” choose to see those who follow in your footsteps as novices. After all, you had your own muses or mentors.
Compliment: You’ve been handing out business cards at professional mixers. Then you see a newer employee doing the same thing.
Wrong: “What are you doing? This is my turf! Find your own way to make connections.”
Right: “It is so good to see you here! Let me take you around and meet some people who’ve helped me grow my client list.”
What You Should Never Say When Someone Compliments You
We’ve painted an ideal world thus far where nice people say nice things to a nice person. What about backhanded compliments or etiquette errors in the gesture? You need to prepare for those too.
- DO NOT CORRECT: If someone says they like your top, don’t correct them that it’s a blouse, and then explain the difference between a top and a blouse to the fashion foreigner.
- DO NOT DISMISS: Who cares if you’re running late to Pilates or just need some “alone time”? If someone takes the time to pay a compliment, accept it without making them feel like a countdown clock is on or it’s inconvenient for you.
- DO NOT DENY: This is especially important with a new hairstyle or facial hair change because nobody will say, “Hey! You changed your hair! It makes your forehead look huge.” Even if you hate the style or fresh shave, accept the compliment and realize that someone cared enough to notice.
- DO NOT DIMINISH: You were so proud of that thrift store find for $5, so why are you telling the adoring coffee barista that it’s a piece of junk you picked up downtown?
Most of all, if you do handle it wrong, forgive yourself.
You aren’t alone if you have awkward compliment syndrome. Nearly 70% of people in a research study felt the same way.
Do you want to know the single most effective way to get better at accepting compliments? Compliment yourself often, especially when dealing with that pesky inner critic.