How I learned to shut up and accept a compliment

Addison Blu
4 min readOct 17, 2017


Photo by Meghan Duthu on Unsplash

I’ve always had a turbulent relationship with direct praise. Just like everyone else, I enjoy validation. I just haven’t had an easy time accepting validation in the form of direct compliments.

In middle school, my parents told me they liked when I practiced guitar. They said I was pretty good at it. I felt good about hearing that and chose to play more.

I joined a band in high school. The rest of the band must have liked my playing enough to make music together, and sometimes I would get a compliment like, “You’re really great at rhythm guitar.”

It was probably sincere, but I didn’t want to be good at just rhythm guitar. I wanted to be good at lead guitar too. I took the compliment as an attack or a hint that I shouldn’t play lead.

Sometimes a friend would tell me that I actually was good at lead guitar. I would get really excited, and then try a bold new solo. Unfortunately, that tune would be out of my skill level or not really add to the song, and everyone would hint that they didn’t like it, and I would get mad at myself for accepting the compliment that made all the dominoes fall.

My life is filled with stories like that. There are many other bad scenarios that can happen to anyone.

A few reasons we don’t accept compliments:

  • We wholeheartedly disagree on whether they’re true
  • We want to seem outwardly humble
  • We don’t want to risk having our egos grow
  • We think the speaker is being insincere or hiding an insult
  • We’re scared that it’ll draw anger from onlookers or competitors
  • We would rather not be indebted or have to return the compliment
  • We start thinking of our insecurities when people talk about our ability level
  • We get overly creative with our responses and make a mess of the situation
  • We were unprepared to receive praise and don’t know how to react

The solution to resisting compliments

It’s simple: turn your reaction to every compliment into a ritual. Do the same thing every time so that you don’t have a strange reaction.

Don’t be robotic, silent, or rude, of course. Just keep your reaction to compliments planned, simple, and polite.

It’s just like when someone says “hello” the correct response is something like “hi” or “hey.” As original as you’re trying to be, it’s usually a mistake to answer in the extreme with “I’ll bet you’re glad to see me!” or “What do you want?”

Here’s an example of how a good compliment situation might go.

“That was a stellar article!”

“Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“How do you think of awesome stuff like that?”

“I work at it over time, just like you do with things you’re good at too.”

“Good point.”

“Tell me more about what you do.”

Afterwards, I’ll say a silent prayer of thanks for doing well, and then remind myself that I have more work ahead. It’s not just automatic either. I do it every single time.

Here’s an example of one bad way to take a compliment

“That was a stellar article!”

“Yeah, I knew this one was gonna be a hit.”

“You were right. How do you think of awesome stuff like that?”

“I guess I’m just blessed.”

While this one might seem innocent enough, it has a few benchmarks of a bad reaction. First, the overenthusiastic response can lead to more ego or make you look foolish if the compliment was insincere or incorrect. And while we can’t always cater to the haters, we might draw more fire if the scene took place in front of others who might be jealous.

Second, the follow up is flat and useless. Nobody wants to hear that God chose you to be special over everyone else. Even if you believe it’s true, it’s not the appropriate way to respond to a compliment. It’s small talk, and the appropriate response is that you gave a little in a relatable way.

Here’s how it might look if you’re doing a good job fielding an insincere compliment

“Wow, you sure did a good job on those push-ups.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

“I’m sure I’d do great at them too if I was as skinny as you.”

“We’re each different and have our own strengths. There’s no reason to compare them. Enjoy your workout.”

You could also handle it badly

“Wow, you sure did a good job on those push-ups.”

“I could have done even better if I was really trying.”

“I’m sure I’d do great at them too if I was as skinny as you.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing, I just can’t be as small as you are. It must be nice.”

“No, I worked hard for it. You just want to bring me down.”

While in this scenario everything you said could be 100% true, it’s still not the appropriate reaction. Unless the other person is constantly harassing you, there’s no reason to take the conversation off the rails.

Not only will you be forced into more interaction with a person who insulted you, but if you’re like me, you’ll hate receiving compliments in the future.

So here’s my ritual in a nutshell

  • Say thank you in the simplest way possible without being short.
  • Let the other person lead the conversation after that.
  • If the other person focuses too much on your success, remind them of their own.
  • Avoid acting mysterious, dismissive, or aloof about your ability.
  • Steer the conversation towards an obvious observation to move away from the compliment.
  • Take a silent moment later to appreciate the compliment
  • Remind yourself that it doesn’t change anything about who you are and what’s required of you

I wish you the best in receiving compliments from here forward. I’m sure you’ll be great at it, just like you are at everything else.



Addison Blu

Entertainment writer and marketing strategist. Has gone by many names. Studied influence in Army Psychological Operations.