I don't know how to react to compliments. So how do you do it?
January 27, 2012 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I don't know how to react to compliments. So how do you do it?

Last night I was at a concert and a random girl walked up to me and complimented me on my t-shirt. or specifically the chipmunks on it. I mention this because it was specific enough to seem sincere and not just some way to start a conversation. what happened next to me has happened a few times: I wanted to talk to this person, she wanted to talk to me but beyond 'thank you' no real conversation endured because I killed it by wondering what compliment I could make her in return or whether I should and by the length of this sentence you already know there were enough awkward pauses to make her want to go away.

So this made me wonder: how do you react to a sincere, yet completely unexpected compliment? how do you keep this -or any- conversation going provided you'd wanted to but didn't know anything about the other person?

I swear I am not always this socially inept.
posted by krautland to Human Relations (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
"I like your chipmunk shirt."

"Wow, thanks. Are you big into chipmunks? I've always been more a vole person myself, though I also tend towards squirrels as needed. I sowrt of switch-hit in rodentia."

(pause for big laffs, quickly find something to say)

"...and that is a fantastic looking backpack you have, btw. It looks full of...books? knitting? A human head? What are you carrying around in there?"

and so on.
posted by jquinby at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I smile real big and say thank you. If I can think of a funny story that relates to the compliment, then I tell it. I then ask basic questions like:
Are you from here?
Have you heard this band before?
What's that guy wearing on his head?
What are you drinking?

If you compliment back right away it comes off as insincere.
posted by myselfasme at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I say: "Awww, thank youuu!"
posted by Dragonness at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2012

"thanks so much! I got it last year at a yard sale. What made notice it?"
Say thanks, a quick sentence about it, and then a question about them or their interest in whatever they complimented.

Other examples:

"I love your hair cut!"
"Thank you! My stylist talked me into it. Where do you get your hair done?"

"Your presentation went so well!"
"Thanks! I was nervous. Are you as much of a nervous-nelly as I am?"

"You really look like you know what you are doing with a golf club."
"Thank you. I've been playing for a while. Have you been a golfer long?"
posted by Blisterlips at 7:42 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

In that specific instance you might follow up by saying where you got the shirt from or who gave it to you (and for what occasion) if it was a gift - after saying thanks obviously. Or if the thing being complimented has a special significance, you could explain that. That puts the ball back in their court. You could always ask them a question about themselves, what exactly you should ask, I guess depends on context.
posted by missmagenta at 7:42 AM on January 27, 2012

(its also possible she didn't really care about the shirt and she was coming on to you)
posted by missmagenta at 7:44 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

not just some way to start a conversation

She may have been flirting and that doesn't mean she didn't like the chipmunks, but that she wouldn't have said anything about them if she didn't want to flirt/talk. You don't have to come up with a less genuine compliment in return. Really, just talk about the shirt and the band you're watching. Jokes like those above are also good.
posted by soelo at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wanted to talk to this person...

Literally the first thing I was taught when I started working in a clothing boutique was that complimenting what a person is wearing is a great way to start a conversation. So if you want to keep going, a great reply is "Thank you! I like your [cute article of clothing]." You don't even have to honestly love the thing you're referring to or want to own one yourself. Anything a person is wearing that's distinct or unique in some way is something they're probably proud of and would like to talk about.
posted by griphus at 7:55 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

"How kind of you to say!" And then hope the person takes the reins (or walks away).
posted by giraffe at 7:58 AM on January 27, 2012

Previously, "How do I take a compliment?"
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:59 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with "Thanks! Are you big on chipmunks?" for the initial response and see where things go from there. You don't have to instantly compliment her back, but if you can spot something you like about her in the next few seconds, drop it in casually and that will give her something to tell you about. "blah blah rodents, by the way that's a funky belt."

If the chipmunk conversation is getting stilted, try to mentally jump back to what you were thinking about when she interrupted you. "You know, when you came over I was just thinking that drummer is so much better than the rest of the group - do you think she's a session player they've hired because their regular is sick or does she just stick with them out of loyalty?" Speculation about other people is always good, it helps you to figure out what sort of person she is without asking direct questions and is also the first steps in building a private world for the two of you - you've got a shared scenario about the band that no one else knows about.

Then drop back to some personal questions "Did you come a long way to get here?" and by then hopefully things are going smoothly enough that you're over that initial hump.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:00 AM on January 27, 2012

If this is a question about flirting I think you're getting great advice above about just keeping the conversation ball rolling back and forth between you (or pick your metaphor).

But if it's compliments specifically, rather than flirting, which transfix you in their headlights, then it's worth thinking about what compliments mean to you and maybe especially what it was like for you to receive compliments as a child, because that's probably where those meanings begin.

If you're like me, you hate compliments because you feel like they put you on the spot. This is a totally common reaction -- so much so that Miss Manners writes against giving a compliment to someone in a group as a rule because it puts the person on the spot and draws attention to something that you don't know they want attention drawn to.

It might be the case that compliments in your past often came with a barb. Maybe someone important to you used compliments as a way to insult you.* So now when you receive compliments you are stuck in tension because part of you knows someone has just said something nice about you and part of you puts your shields up and braces for the impact of the barb you learned to expect. It can be hard to flirt -- or indeed, just to be friendly to a stranger -- in that sort of situation.

If this isn't your experience then don't worry about it too much, but maybe it's worth thinking about how you feel when someone compliments you (or maybe your clothes specifically) and what that brings up in you. If it is you, or you think it is, then you can work on being present to compliments instead of letting your instincts take over.

* It can be as simple as a schoolmate saying "hey, nice shoes" and then laughing when you're already self-conscious about your shoes, or whatever.
posted by gauche at 8:41 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Thanks, that's very nice of you to say!" if you don't want to continue the conversation.

If you do want to continue: "Thanks, that's very nice of you to say! I bought it at X," or "I almost wore my skunk t-shirt instead" or "it was on sale so I have an extra $5, can I buy you a drink?"... pretty much anything that adds a little more detail that the asker can naturally respond to.
posted by juliplease at 8:48 AM on January 27, 2012

I usually get a surprised look on my face and say "Wow, thank you!" Which is genuine, because I am always surprised whenever anyone has a complement for me.
posted by slogger at 9:45 AM on January 27, 2012

"Thank you. Compliments will get you everywhere."
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:01 AM on January 27, 2012

Nthing whoever said to say thank you and say something about it, so the asker can ask you more details.
posted by EatMyHat at 10:15 AM on January 27, 2012

1. Say thanks - first you just say thank you. This is actually kind of hard! I had to train myself to automatically respond to nice things people said to me with "thank you" because what I will mindlessly say is stuff like "oh, it's no big deal, really it was nothing" or "oh, this thing? It's so (old, yucky, other negative thing)" or "really, you like it? I've always thought it was (out of style, other negative thing). Which I (and other people) probably do to minimize the attention drawn to you because it's uncomfortable or you're not used to it - you're actually sort of putting yourself down like you don't deserve a compliment; but when you think about it's a little dismissive, a little rude, maybe even a little insulting to the complimenter (i.e. possibly implying they have bad taste to like what they complimented you on). It chills the good feelings and the conversation.

2. Say something about whatever they complimented you on. "I got this years ago - it's held up really well!" "This is my favorite shirt - I've always had a thing for chipmunks." "Yeah, my hair - I just felt it was time for a change, you know?" "I stayed up all night to get it done!"

3. Small talk. Can be scary, definitely can be awkward! Better awkward than just standing there wondering what to say next and then that nice person walks away and oops you missed your chance to get to know them! Small talk is just lobbing something easy at them to respond to: "Do you like the band?" "How about this weather, crazy, huh?" "Have you been here before?"

Optional: you can compliment them back as part of your small talk, if you find something instantly standing out to you about them that you can easily do it - "Thanks! These boots are so comfortable. Your boots are really nice - I love that shade of brown." This is probably good if you can do it because sometimes people give compliments as a sort of ritual: I say something nice, you say something nice, we're mutually confirmed on the same level, and then everyone's happy. If you don't give one back, it can be seen as leaving the other person hanging and can bug someone if you don't ever share back.
posted by flex at 10:42 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I used to have seriously low self esteem (doesn't sound like you necessarily) i had a very good friend tell me that compliments were a gift- SO JUST SAY THANK YOU. If someone gives you a gift UNEXPECTEDLY you're not expected to have one to give back-just say thank you, say how much you like the gift ("really!?" "this t-shirt??? I got it at...") and bobs your uncle...
posted by misspony at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't miss a beat between "Aw thanks" and "Hi, I'm krautland."
posted by jph at 1:07 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

hmm. on the lady side of things (a descriptive, not prescriptive summary): i evaluate of the stranger to make a split-second determination of what their motives are:

if (maybe they're flirting & i find them attractive), then i determine (are they sincere or hipsta cool), then flirt back accordingly. if (sincere) i smile big and race to find something to ask them. if (cool) i smile small and try to make a wry or witty observation!

if (maybe they're flirting & i don't find them attractive), then i smile small and say something nice but try not to make too much eye contact for fear of signalling interest.

if (they are not flirting), i also smile big and race to find something to ask them, because i'm flattered someone random wants to say nice things to me and want to return the good feeling.

if (they are not flirting and i think they're hot) i become too embarrassed, squeak out thank you, and run away! this is also what i did when i rode the elevator with barack obama (twice!)
posted by anthropomorphic at 2:25 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Again, this is more if the question is actually about compliments rather than about flirting, but one thing you could always try is just (honestly) complimenting people a bunch and seeing which kinds of responses you like. I compliment people a lot on what they wear (I'm always interested in jewelry and interesting clothing/design choices) and I find that the response I enjoy is always the one that shares my enthusiasm for whatever it is. "Yeah, isn't this great? It's by my favorite designer who works out of this little store in..." or "thank you: my sister bought this for me a couple of years ago and I've been looking for the perfect dress to wear it with ever since..." The responses I find least satisfying are variants on the "what, this old thing?" and the mechanical attempt to praise something back.
posted by yoink at 5:13 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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