Thursday, April 12, 2012

Accepting Compliments

Some people say thank you....Just ask the late, lamented cast of Will and Grace:

It seems that we as a species have trouble accepting compliments. I've been asked about this informally before, and I just received an email from a new reader about it. So, it seemed a ripe time to address it generally.

I've riffed plenty on the insulting comments before: "Jane, you look so nice I almost didn't recognize you!" or "Bob, what a cute little diamond you gave your fiancee". Those are complicated; you don't want to make a scene (Graces abhor scenes) but neither do you want to take abuse. However, that is a topic for another day.

Straightforward compliments should be received exactly as they are given--in a straightforward way. A simple thank you is all that is required. If you wish, you can add "it was nice of you to notice" or "how kind of you to say so."

What you must never, never, do is dispute the remark. Not only do you look foolish and inappropriately self-disparaging by denying the value of your new haircut/effective sales pitch/delicious dinner, but you may appear disagreeable and argumentative. If someone tells you that your sweater is lovely, don't say, "this old thing? it's a rag!" By doing so, you essentially insult the admirer by implying that their taste and judgment are lacking.

Many of us are hardwired toward self-effacement. This can be sweet, endearing, and downright hilarious. But like everything, Graces, there's a time and a place. Great to invoke when a friend is feeling embarrassed about a mishap at work--DO share the fact that you attended a business event with your pants ripped and your undies fully exposed like I did last week. It will both make her laugh and make her feel better about her snafu. Not great when your friend is attempting a diet and you carp on about how fat you are--particularly as she outweighs you by a good 20 lbs.

So next time your supervisor commends you for a job well done, thank her. Two little words that will never fail you.


Ruby's said...

You always address the issues that actually have us all stumped. Great piece of writing here.

Claudia said...

Grace, what do you do about compliments that are given to reinforce some trait that you DON'T like and that the giver KNOWS you don't like?

An example: a motherly type that has told me before that she thinks I, and other girls in their 30s, should wear less makeup. On a day when I overslept and barely showered in time for work, she takes the opportunity to gush about how beautiful I look without eye makeup.

These compliments are meant to be kind (at least from this person) and affirming of some kind of virtue that she wants for my life, but they just feel manipulative and forceful. I am left seething and trying not to say something snarky like "Well, I'm glad you like it; I'm glad I don't have to see myself at the moment."

Social Grace said...

Claudia: Go back to what you said above: "These compliments are meant to be kind and affirming..." Even if you disagree with them, the easiest and most Gracious course of action is to say thank you and move on. Whether this woman has a personal agenda aiming to stamp out cosmetic usage or is just being nice is immaterial. You will never go wrong with "thank you." Ditto the meanies who remark on your 'skinny legs' (which you are self conscious about) or your aquiline nose. "Thank you" keeps you in the Gracious zone: if they are trying to be rude, your good manners takes away their power to do so, and if they genuinely think your pins are fab, you'll have thanked them just the same. It's tough being a Grace among grunts. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing!

Claudia said...

Grace - thanks. That is what I normally do. With one or two clueless people, however, saying "thank you" has the direct and measurable and unwanted effect of affirming their actions and inviting more of the same. Seriously; when I respond with any positive reaction, it is taken as an invitation to push the agenda further. The other area this comes up is with unwanted and invasive backhanded compliments about food choices. I wish there were a polite way to say "thanks, but no thanks!" when it comes to "compliments" that over and over again are given with even a kindly intent of reforming someone else's life.