How to take a compliment

Ah yes, the compliment…

A human paradox if there ever was one: we spend our entire lives chasing personal recognition and acknowledgement but are seemingly unable to actually receive it…such a tragedy.

I mean honestly, how many times has a scenario that looked a little like the following happened in your life?

Friend: “Wow, you look great in that dress!”
You: “What this old thing? I found it for €2 in the bin of a thrift shop and it makes me look fat. But hey, so do all my other clothes 🙁 ”
Friend: “No seriously, it’s a great look for you!”
You: “So you think I’m fat?”
Friend: “…”

Hmmm, now that I think about it, this might be more of a female paradox…

My own lacking skills in how to take a compliment became overwhelmingly apparent last week…

I’d been super busy shooting and editing my first video portrait of the lovely Miss Tobi, had for some reason been feeling overly emotional and had simply not had the time to completely finish it.

It was therefore all the more surprising when I showed up at the preliminary screening and around 30 of Tobi’s closest (and very cool Berlinian) friends were there to look at my unfinished film on a big beamer. And I’d expected about 5 people gathered around my little laptop!

So we watched the 8 minute and 30-second long movie and I smiled and felt really proud at those bits I loved and cringed at those edits and colors and sounds that hadn’t been polished just yet.

And after the very last second of the film, the group applauded. Like crazy!

Someone called it “fucking brilliant”. Tobi’s father called it an “amazing family souvenir” and begged me to not change anything and basically, it was compliments all around!

And all I could do was just sit there, look down and be happy it was quite dark so nobody could see how embarrassed I was.

Isn’t that odd?

Because sure, it’s not finished yet. And sure, my first (or, likely, any) documentary will never ever be of Tarantino-esque brilliance and proportions but still, it’s pretty good! And I know that.

So why is it so difficult to hear?

How to take a complimentWhy is it so difficult for any person (woman?) to hear how great she looks?

Or what a great job she’s done? Or just simply how amazing she is? Even when, albeit deep down inside, she knows it to be true.

Well…there are of course all sorts of reasons why one would want to deflect a compliment:

  • You might ‘simply’ have low self-esteem and not believe the compliment to be true;
  • Or you might perhaps, like me in this example, not have enough confidence in this particular area just yet;
  • It could be that you’re afraid people might perceive you as arrogant for accepting a compliment with confidence;
  • Or it could be that you do not trust the compliment giver and are afraid they’re making fun of you.

Whatever the reason is, it’s annoying as fuck to not be able to receive the acknowledgement you’ve been working so hard for.

There, I’ve said it!

You’ve not been dieting and working out that hard to let it go by unseen.

You’ve not spend years and years of perfecting your ability to find those thrift shop treasures to simply wave a compliment on your amazing €2 dress away.

You’ve not spend all those years studying and working your ass off to not receive a ‘wow’ from managers and peers when you pull that 1 project off.

And even if you didn’t do any of those things. Even if you’ve been slacking in life and binge watching and eating on the couch for the past couple of years…

…if you’re given a compliment, you should be able to own it.


Let’s take a look at the 1 thing you (and I) can immediately do…

To make sure we don’t want the earth to swallow us whole the next time we’re given a giant (or even a teeny tiny) compliment.

Are you ready? Because this is it:

Give compliments. Give them regularly, consciously and mean every single one of them to the bone.

Sounds simple and it is simple. But there are a couple of conditions:

  • Stay away from hollow compliments made out of habit. It’s like asking ‘how are you?’ without really wanting to hear a reply. These types: no good. Don’t go there. They’re empty and make sensible people want to punch other people in the face (or is that just me?).
  • Make sure you recognise an achievement (or look or whatever) that is great for them. If someone usually gets D’s and comes home with a B, that’s worth a compliment. If someone is usually a bit too shy or self-aware to wear a dress and comes out to the bar in one, then that’s worth a compliment too. Even when you’re a grade A student who always wears dresses!
  • Don’t get all awkward by grabbing their shoulders and stare them in the eye for 10 full seconds just to tell them how amazing they are for every test they’ve passed or cute dress they’re wearing…just be cool about it but don’t neglect to do it either.


How to take a complimentAlso, compliments are not bound by time and space.

You know how sometimes, someone from your past pops up into your head because you’re reminded of something they taught you, given you or simply because they’ve been a part of your life? These people deserve a compliment in the moment this feeling of gratitude comes to you. Even when it’s been years since you last spoke to them.

An example: I’ve worked with many managers in my life and only 2 or 3 properly stood out as leaders; as people who’ve influenced me in the most positive way (in business life at least). But when I sent 1 of these amazing people a message through LinkedIn to tell her exactly that, she told me in return that nobody had ever done that. EVER. Weird thing was that I knew I wasn’t the only one thinking it. I was just the only one putting it into action.

Why would this help you become better able at receiving a compliment?

Well, there are a couple of reasons apart from potential karmic repercussions (the good kind):

  • There’s confidence you build in yourself. Because you’ll learn that a compliment is most often very well meant and deserved and the more you realise that, the easier it will become to receive one;
  • You’ll see other people stumble and fuss over it just as you do and see how utterly unnecessary that is;
  • You’ll learn that you, nor anything that you do needs to be bloody perfect for it to be recognised as something great!

There you go. All perfectly good reasons to hand out compliments like there’s no tomorrow!

So what are you going to do next time someone hands you a compliment?

Here’s what:

Recognise it for what it is, bite down the apology or waving away that automatically comes bubbling up, internalise it as something truly positive, raise your head up high, look them in the eye, smile and thank them.

And really mean it!