How to take a compliment

There’s something about compliments isn’t there? Something uncomfortable. Something that makes many of us squirm a little and respond with a knee jerk reaction. We might reject the compliment outright, change the subject quickly or immediately return the compliment (something I do a lot).

A couple of months ago I went to a talk by Action for Happiness about positive psychology and relationships. I learnt a lot from the talk, but I think my biggest takeaways were around compliments.

The speakers (Suzann and James Pawelski) explained that the reason many of us feel uncomfortable around compliments is because they make us feel vulnerable and open.


If we struggle with ourselves, in whatever capacity, it can feel downright wrong to be complimented. Years of ‘nice girl’ conditioning from the patriarchy probably doesn’t help either. We’re not supposed to be ‘boastful’ are we? We’re supposed to be modest and meek… *yuk*.

Aside from this being flat-out wrong, rejecting compliments is actually pretty rude to the compliment giver. As I learned in the talk, when we reject a compliment from someone, we’re basically saying they’re wrong and have bad judgement. Not very ‘nice’, huh?

So while we sit there thinking the polite thing to do is say, “oh no, I’m not X” and blush quietly, in reality all this does is hurt the compliment giver.

My default advice to other people about compliments has always been to smile and say “thank you”, but Suzann and James had an idea to elevate this.

Their suggestion was to get curious about the compliment. If the other person is complimenting something you did for example, ask what about the action resonated with them. This is perhaps more appropriate in romantic relationships, but the idea is that you’ll gain some insight into what they find valuable in your relationship.

Another suggestion they had was around saying ‘thank you’ to people in response to a receiving a gift (which, let’s face it, can be just as awkward as receiving a compliment). To make our thank yous more genuine, they suggested making the thank you about the giver of the gift.

For example, say someone bought you a top in your favourite colour. Instead of saying “Thank you, I can wear it on holiday!” you could try “Thank you for being so thoughtful, I love red and love that you’ve noticed that!”.

The next time someone gives you a compliment, try and sit with it for a moment. Let it sink in and honour the person giving the compliment by saying thank you, and maybe consider getting curious about it (if it feels right to do so).

Sometimes it takes a compliment to help us see ourselves in a truer light, to see ourselves as others see us.

When I was in recovery from anorexia, I collected compliments. Every time someone said something nice to me, I wrote it down in a tiny notebook. I wrote the compliment down, the person who said it and the date.

I kept it and looked through it whenever I was struggling with my body image. Eventually the voices in this notebook drowned out the eating disorder voice. It reminded me that I’m more than my body, and I’m more than the way I alone see myself.


Photography | Elle Narbrook 

So I hope if you’ve taken anything away from this blog post, it’s this – please stop squirming when someone gives you a compliment! Value it, value the person giving it. Collect it and store it somewhere. Let it join a chorus of kindness.

Oh, AND (sorry, one more thing to take away…) give more compliments! Give them truth and meaning, let them fill the hearts of those close to you (and those not close to you!).

Kindness is a gift and it’s invaluable. This month’s newsletter is all about kindness and how incredibly beneficial it us to us to be kind. If you want to receive it, make sure you’re subscribed before this Sunday, 30th Sept.

Do you find it uncomfortable taking compliments? Has this post changed your mind on taking compliments??

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How to take a compliment

4 thoughts on “How to take a compliment

  1. Dee says:

    These are such great tips, especially the one about turning the compliment into being about the giver! I’ve never thought about it in that way and looking forward now to trying it out sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

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