Learning to Accept a Compliment

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Accepting a compliment can be just plain awkward. Should you tell them that you they are really pretty too? Should you blush humbly and wave away their compliment? Should you smile and say, “Thanks, but I haven’t washed my hair in three days!”

Learning to accept a compliment is a life skill that is important in conveying self confidence and necessary for daily interactions. I am currently reading “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes (writer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal), in which, in one chapter, she tackles the idea of what it means to be able to accept a compliment. She has a realization that she, among many brilliant, successful women in her life, are unable to accept a compliment without doing one of the following: deflecting the compliment, blushing with embarrassment, assuring that someone else deserves the credit and attention, covering their face with their hands, or demonstrating some other sign that she does not believe she is worthy of the compliment.

As I was reading this, I recognized the behavior in many people in my life, including myself. For some reason, this does seem to be more of a trait found in women than men — men do not seem to be as apologetic about their accomplishments, in general. Although, I’m sure there are men who find accepting a compliment to be difficult, and there are women who can accept a compliment without hesitance. But then there are those of us who struggle.

Why do people feel so awkward when it comes to accepting compliments? I think the main reason is because we don’t want others to view us as conceited or think we are better than them. So we try to bring ourselves back to their level by deflecting the compliment. However, by doing this, we are actually making ourselves seem like we lack self confidence, and also making the person who paid you the compliment feel uncomfortable.

I have come to the conclusion that my own unwillingness to accept a compliment is because I don’t want to make other people feel inferior or think that I believe I’m better than them. When you really think about this, it’s actually kind of silly — aren’t they the one who paid you the compliment in the first place? It’s not as if you are going around telling everyone how beautiful you look today and how amazing your boots are and how fit you are looking lately (if you are, I think we have other problems). The other person is not going to think you think you are better than them if you simply accept the compliment that they paid you! Obviously they already think you look great or your boots are amazing, so all you need to do is accept it, graciously. In fact, it may even come across as rude if you brush the compliment off. For example if you say something like, “Oh, these old things? I don’t even really like them anymore,” then you are telling that person that the boots they thought were great are actually nothing special to you, so in a way you are putting the other person down. In an article from The Art of Manliness on this very topic, he says when you deflect a compliment like this, you are essentially transferring your own discomfort back to the giver of the compliment.

When you refuse to accept a compliment, you are showing the people around you that you don’t believe you are worthy or special. You won’t come across as humble, but rather as insecure. If you want to appear confident and sure of yourself, simply accept the compliment. I’ve taken notice of various people I’ve encountered lately and how they accept compliments, and I’ve definitely noticed that the ones that seem confident and self-assured simply accept the compliment they are paid without apologizing or deflecting. This does not make me think they are snobby or full of themselves, but instead shows me that they believe they are worthy of compliments and know how to accept them graciously.

Knowing how to accept a compliment is an important skill that can be improved upon with practice. Here are a few things to focus on so that you appear confident and gracious when you are paid a compliment:

Your response.

When the compliment is about your appearance, or the complimenter is a stranger.

The key to accepting a compliment is to keep your response simple, making sure you accept the compliment and don’t deflect it. Many people advising on this topic suggest simply saying “thank you,” and leaving it at that. In some cases, this may be an adequate response. If the person complimenting you is a stranger or you want it to be a quick interaction, a simple “thank you” may be exactly the right response. For example, if the barista at the coffee shop says she likes your earrings, and you don’t know her personally and don’t want to hold up the line, a simple “thank you” would be just fine in that case. Likewise, if the compliment is something like, “You look really nice today” or “You have really pretty eyes,” a simple thank you is the best response because you didn’t really do anything to earn the compliment, so there’s not much else you can say.

When you want the conversation to continue, you know the complimenter, or the compliment is more personal.

Although “thank you” is appropriate in many cases, I would argue that there are certain times in which it is appropriate to add a little more. For instance, if you want to keep the conversation going, you may give them a little more information about whatever it is they are complimenting, such as “Oh thank you! I got these boots at Nordstrom last year and I love how comfortable they are!” This comes across as warm and inviting, but still confident and unapologetic. Although, if you don’t wish to reveal any extra information, it’s definitely not necessary.

In cases where the compliment is more thoughtful or personal,  I would recommend saying something a little bit more, such as “Oh thank you, that’s so kind of you!” or “Thank you, I really appreciate that.” This would be appropriate if you know the person paying you the compliment, or the compliment was regarding something you accomplished, your work, etc. By providing a little more warmth and kindness than just a simple “thank you,” you are making the other person feel really good for paying you the compliment and still leaving the conversation open to more interaction.

Just remember to say whatever feels natural in the situation at hand, but never feel like you need to deflect or apologize for the compliment. Be confident, and accept it!

Body language.

Your body language is going to be almost as important as your response when accepting the compliment. Don’t start fidgeting or playing with your hair or covering your face — these are basically deflecting the compliment without you even saying anything, and demonstrate a lack of self confidence. Maintain good posture and smile genuinely at the person, making eye contact as you say “thank you,” or whatever your desired response. Warm, friendly body language will make even a simple “thank you” seem gracious and kind. Obviously, in the above image, you would never view Emma Watson as snobby or conceited based on her gracious, friendly body language.

Pay it forward.

Don’t feel like you have to immediately respond with, “Oh thank you! I love your shirt!” In fact, don’t do this because it comes across as inauthentic. It may make the other person feel uncomfortable since it seems like you are only complimenting them because they complimented you first. However, I do believe that giving other people genuine compliments as you go about your day-to-day life will help you gain more confidence when it is you who is on the receiving end. You will witness people who get awkward and deflect your compliment, and those who gracefully accept your compliment with confidence. By experiencing these scenarios, you will be more aware of the way you want to be when others compliment you. Paying compliments regularly can also help you deal with that fear of people thinking you are better than others if you accept a compliment — if you are consistently paying genuine compliments to people in your life, nobody is going to think you are a snob when you accept a compliment of your own. You are putting good energy and kindness out there, so you should feel good about accepting kindness in return.


I hope this article has inspired you to welcome compliments in your life and not feel awkward or guilty accepting them. Learning to accept a compliment is a practice of self-confidence; you are demonstrating to yourself and to the person you are interacting with how you feel about yourself. You will not come across snobby, conceited, or better-than if you learn to accept compliments graciously. Just remember to smile and accept — and remember that you deserve it!


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