"But I don't even HAVE one."
September 13, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

How do I gracefully rebutt compliments I genuinely do not deserve?

This has been a bit of a pattern in my life, but especially as of late I have been receiving a lot of unwarranted compliments both in my personal and professional life that are very clearly not reflective of me, my work, and my capabilities. Some of these compliments often exaggerate my abilities, and in some cases even point to qualities that I very obviously do not even have.

My usual strategies for dealing with them up to now are to either gently accept the compliments, ignore the compliment, or deflect the topic. However, I'm becoming more and more wary of doing so because I'm finding that the compliments that people give me tend to reflect deeper-seated inaccuracies in their perception of me, which leads to a huge misplacement of trust and responsibilities in many circumstances with disastrous outcomes. Furthermore, they harm me personally because I feel like I have to work even harder to live up to their clearly exaggerated and whitewashed perceptions of me, leading to a great deal of stress; I feel like in a lot of circumstances I should have been more humble about myself and my credentials as so not to have manipulated people into developing these perceptions in the first place. While I try to assume good faith, I also can't help but feel that in some cases, especially when the compliments are clearly extremely off-base, people are acting out of malice - so especially in these cases, I'm reluctant to let the compliment slide.

So my question is - how can I rebutt these compliments in a socially graceful way that doesn't hurt the compliment-giver's feelings?

For this question, please assume that the compliments that I am receiving genuinely do not reflect my work and nature.
posted by Conspire to Human Relations (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is so very hard to answer without an example. Can you provide a couple?
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:22 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Accepting a compliment and accepting additional responsibility are different things. I'm not sure why you can't say "Thanks" to the first and "Can't do it" to the second.

Do you have any examples?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:22 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since the compliments do not appear to involve taking on extra obligations, take them as wishes for your future and stop letting your conviction of the right level of accuracy derail other people's ham handed attempts to be nice.
posted by Phalene at 1:24 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

You may want to be more specific here because it's hard to understand how you can be getting so many undeserved compliments.

Are they compliments, or are they along the line of, "This is Conspire, our resident Qwijex guru." If that's the case, you can say, "Hardly that. I dabble in Quijex."

Is it more, "Conspire here is our top sales person, feel free to assign all the quota to him." If so then, you can say, "no, please don't do that, it will make me cry."

Or if it's, "Conspire is awesome and has a huge dick." Just smile and say, "Only in comparison to your small asshole. Actually, I'm average sized. Would you like to see it?"

It really does depend on the situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:25 PM on September 13, 2013 [14 favorites]

Just say "thank you" -- if it's malicious or not, that's still the best way to go.
posted by brainmouse at 1:25 PM on September 13, 2013

If this isn't impostor syndrome and you really think it's a problem, then perhaps take a cue from the Oscars and accept the credit as not completely yours, but that of those around you, who made it all possible.
posted by anonymisc at 1:26 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some examples I can think of in the past few days, even:

I work in advocacy roles back at my university. A member of one of the teams I used to work with (I'm currently taking a break from my studies to conduct research at another university) was involved in a difficult meeting; she texted me telling me that during all of the breaks, everyone was apparently claiming that if I were there I would have instantly resolved the entire conflict - which was very much untrue given the nature of the conflict and my roles and engagement in similar meetings before. So basically, they set me up as a straw savior in a sense by exaggerating my abilities - and now when I get back to my university, I'm going to have to deal with that hugely exaggerated persona and expectation of me.

I was also in an introductory consultation recently, and within thirty minutes of a very disorganized conversation of the nature of of my work that greatly glossed over many of the details of my experiences, they were offering me a board position. This was despite not having met me in person once before, and only having exchanged a few emails with me - while I didn't mind taking on the work because it was in a cause that I'm interested in, I'm a little concerned with how they didn't bother to check any of my credentials or dig in deeper to ensure that I really was capable of doing the work. I feel like a large part of it is because I speak charismatically in a way that exaggerates perception of my capabilities.

I've also been getting compliments on my appearance, which feel very weird and off-base as I'm genuinely not attractive at all, and it's something I would really prefer not to be noticed - I feel like a lot of the compliments are mocking my appearance or white lies in a bid to quell my insecurities about it.
posted by Conspire at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2013

"It's very kind of you to say so."
"It's very kind of you to think so."
"I'm glad you liked it."

If you're really worried about people overestimating you, then you can always say, "It's very kind of you to say so, but really, I'm just a beginner with [foo]." Or "It's very kind of you to say so, but I didn't do as good a job on [bar] as I would have liked." But I think it just works better to accept the compliment as much as you are honestly able.
posted by Jeanne at 1:39 PM on September 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Well, from an outsider's perspective, all of your examples seem to be based upon people perceiving you more highly than you perceive yourself. So just say thank you and try to take people at their word.

I don't know how long you've been in the workforce, but when it comes to my job, I've learned that my standards for myself seem to be much higher than what most people expect either of themselves or of an average employee. It sounds like you are perceived as being unusually capable, and I've never once seen someone perceived that way incorrectly. Accept that you're good at what you do, and keep doing what you're doing.

On the appearance thing - people compliment me all the time on my unusual hair color and my name. I had absolutely nothing to do with either of those things, but I say thank you nonetheless. I find it hard to believe people would take the time out of their day to try to make you feel bad about yourself in a weird, backhanded way.
posted by something something at 1:42 PM on September 13, 2013 [30 favorites]

I've heard a bunch of anecdotes about people complimenting Bill Clinton, and witnessed someone else compliment Bill Clinton in person. Of course, he deserved what compliments he got, but I think the way he handled compliments was pretty genius.

Whenever someone would compliment him on something goddamn obvious, like "hey, thank you for your service!" or something, he would just stand there, consider it as if he hadn't considered that he did that whole President thing before, and break out into a smile and say something like, "Aw shucks! Thank you!"

You may want to get some empirical evidence from other people on how they react to making a compliment and getting a brusque response vs. an "Aw shucks! Thank you!" response. Irrespective of if you have any skill or not.
posted by curuinor at 1:44 PM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

I know that I am a weird and awkward person, but if strangers compliment me on my appearance I scowl and say "Nope." YMMV. If not strangers, I don't think you're out of line telling them "I know you mean it nicely, but that makes me feel kind of weird."
posted by Jeanne at 1:44 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

In your first example, you weren't there - there is no objective way to keep a room full of people from thinking you'd have done it better.

In your second example, the compliment is that they gave you work to do? You could, in accepting the board position, merely reiterate your limitations (you can only do X amount of work, you are still learning about X). But as long as you Agree that you're capable of doing the work, their rigor in screening you isn't your business.

In matters of appearance, just say thank you. I feel similarly about my appearance, but recognize that people want to say nice things. I often will say something like, "thank you, that means a lot coming from someone with great taste, like you" or something if I really want to deflect back to them.
posted by ldthomps at 1:44 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

When would "Thank you" be an inappropriate response to a genuine compliment?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:56 PM on September 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Instead of trying to rebutt the compliments you need to start thinking of yourself as highly as all these other people do. You seem to believe multiple people have independently come to the same incorrect high opinion of you. It's way more likely they are all right - and your opinion of yourself is off. Work on that and don't worry about everybody else.
posted by COD at 1:56 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've also been getting compliments on my appearance, which feel very weird and off-base as I'm genuinely not attractive at all

At this point one begins to wonder if what's out of whack here is not the compliments, but your self-perception of whether you deserve them or not.

It's very difficult to imagine how any of the examples you list could have been intended maliciously.
posted by ook at 1:56 PM on September 13, 2013 [23 favorites]

Just say "Thank you" and smile. Then move one.
posted by michellenoel at 1:58 PM on September 13, 2013

From the examples you've given these don't sound totally off the wall; it seems you could be genuinely well thought of by certain people; but your own approach seems to automatically rebutting it and choosing to feel the exact opposite, so it seems to be less about the reality of their comments as your perception.

For myself I also have the same trouble with praise and recognition; growing up without a lot of love and encouragement and positivity in my life and some pretty warped perspectives handed down to me.

One of the ways I got through it all was becoming a completely self directed person and growing to ignore every external judgment, which was fine in allowing me to brush off all sorts of negativity and criticism like a pro, the positive feedback didn't go in either and automatically got written off as bullshit or my anxiety meant it reentered my brain as a sort of implied criticism.

Its only later and dealing with a lot of that stuff left over from this time that I realized the extent of this and was able to take a more balanced view and accept compliments graciously without either feeling like i'm being manipulated or somehow cynically set up for failure.

Its a tricky thing to get your head round, especially in my case where the habit was ingrained over a lifetime but I've actually got to a stage where I'm able to tune in to the good I do and enjoy praise and recognition rather than subconsciously fear it has made me feel so much better about my life, perhaps its a similar thing for you?
posted by Middlemarch at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you are over-thinking this. I think the issue is more how you are perceiving the comments, than the comments themselves.

In your first example, you could just point out that it's unlikely you'd have been able to quickly resolve it. There's little doubt in my mind that anybody really thinks that you could OR that they expect you to live up to that. What your colleague said to you honestly just sounds like the typical thing people say when dealing with an issue -- it's always the fault of the absent person or the absent person could have done it better.

In your second example, it sounds like you oversold yourself. If you really believe that, why not say "well, why don't you check out my credentials and background and we can have another conversation to see if it's a good fit." (And maybe, considering NOT overselling yourself.)

On the third, in general, just say "thank you." Even if you don't believe it. "Thank you" is always appropriate.
posted by sm1tten at 2:01 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can see how you're concerned no so much about "accepting compliments" but actually about the ramifications of letting people believe you're more accomplished than you really are. Three suggestions:

First, I'd say to cut them some slack. If they believe you have a skill, chances are you're better than they are at it. Fight down your imposter syndrome, and accept that you have skills.

Second, if you really want to say something meaningful, do it in a way that does not sound like false modesty. The commenter's example "our resident expert!" --> "well, I dabble" has been used so often by the pool sharks that it's seen as just a polite agreement rather than a contradiction. When someone thinks I know about a topic, there's usually a reason for that, even if I disagree, and I try to rephrase their recollection of the situation into something that I believe is more true. "I'm the resident Foo expert? Oh, right, I did do that Foo for that one project we did together. I got really lucky, because most of that was already set up in the system, so I didn't have to do the hard part; if I were looking for an expert, I wouldn't pick me."
(1) identify why they think you have the skill (there was this one time you saw me do X)
(2) acknowledge that you did a great job then
(3) mention mitigating circumstances (team handled most of it, it was a simpler problem than it sounded, I'd done that exact task before)
(4) mention how that limited skill applies to the broader context of being an expert.

Third, don't assume that they really mean that they honestly think of you as an expert and would hire you to do a crucial job just because they say complimentary words. If there were a big project in X to be done, it wouldn't just land in your lap without verification that you're capable. Your coworkers aren't going to call you up to do conflict resolution or mediation, they were, in some sense, just joking around about how out of hand those other guys were, and sayig that they appreciate that you're not like that and that things don't tend to get like that when you're around. They didn't call you on your cell phone and actually expect you to fix it.
posted by aimedwander at 2:01 PM on September 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

You need to learn two things: the first is how to deal with imposter syndrome, which is what's going on with your stress about being asked to be on the board of that organization. Clearly that person liked what he heard, figured you're basically an honest person, and that you can probably help with the organization and definitely can't hurt it or do any serious damage. You're not realizing that many or most people probably got on the board the same way you did-- by being interested in the organization's goals and willing and able to help out.

The next thing you need to learn is how to be a gracious and personable adult in social situations, and that means accepting compliments with, "Thank you!" or "That is very kind of you." Your job is not to correct people's perceptions or misperceptions. Your job as a gracious adult in social situations is to make people feel good about themselves, so the appropriate response is to thank them and make them feel like they have done a good thing by doing you the favor of paying them a compliment.
posted by deanc at 2:06 PM on September 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

There's really no way to argue this without sounding as though you're begging for affirmation.

Just say thank you. If someone else deserves the credit say "I'll pass that along to Joe who did most of the work."
posted by 26.2 at 2:08 PM on September 13, 2013 [11 favorites]

You're in your 20s, right? it's not like you're sitting on the board at Microsoft or the Ford Fdn. if you think that you're not really able to do the work on the board, say thanks but I'm not really going to have time or whatever the situation is. And the rest--you're over-thinking. A compliment by text isn't the same as having a group of people adopt you as their guru and savior.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:10 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Example one: they weren't complimenting you, they were insulting the person who actually was present at the meeting. Notice that you only heard about this from the person being insulted - it wasn't said to your face. If something is not said to your face AND is clearly not meant for you, there is no reason to respond to it. What I think is appropriate is to speak highly of the colleague who was attacked to the people who attacked her, with no direct reference to a meeting at which you were not present.

Getting a board position that you happened to want - don't look a gift horse in the mouth, OK. You most definitely should check the responsibilities of the role and make sure you have the concrete skills to meet those responsibilities. If the role requires a slakfjghewhg guru, and you don't know anything about slakfjghewhg, say "I understand that this role requires expert knowledge of slakfjghewhg and I have no knowledge of that domain whatsoever. In light of this, is the role appropriate?" And if they say, "you will have no trouble learning slakfjghewhg! you'll be up to speed in no time!" go on the internet and try doing a few tutorials in slakfjghewhg and see if you have the same estimation as they do of how easy it is. Maybe it's not that easy and they're just setting you up to fail! Or maybe it is easy to learn.

Third thing: unsolicited compliments about your appearance are not to be viewed with suspicion as people have very little reason to proffer such compliments other than thinking they're true. I don't rule out that there could be adults immature enough to mock somebody's appearance with faux compliments, because some social settings consist mainly of people who literally did not mature beyond high school and are really, really unusually catty... but I'd need some evidence before I agreed that your case fell out towards this kind of wacky extreme. Do you have evidence that these people are catty, backhanded, manipulative or passive-aggressive in other ways? There was one MeFite, I can't remember who, who met a man who manipulated her by complimenting her beautiful hands, when at the time she was doing a manual job that was very hard on her hands and so that particular compliment was demonstrably false. But you see, she had evidence for why the compliment was false, she wasn't citing generalities like "I'm not attractive". If this is happening, then in the moment you just say "thank you, so are you" (this is a good one to turn around on guys who tell you you are wearing a particularly beautiful dress today) and then go offline and think about whether they otherwise show signs of being someone who would make false statements, why you think the statement is false, what motive they might have for saying it.
posted by tel3path at 2:23 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would like to add that by saying "thank you" you are merely thanking the other person for their compliment, not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with the compliment itself. It really is the quickest way to make that part of conversation come to a close. After saying "thank you" you can immediately change the topic. However, if you refuse the compliment the other party might feel the need to prove their point, which will only serve to draw things out.
posted by marimeko at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

Hi, I'm a complimenter. I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable and I totally don't intend it to be bad in any way. I was taught very early on that small compliments and honest praise about someone are the grease that lube society's gears. I don't say things I don't mean, but sometimes, I do reach for something nice to say rather than not saying anything at all.

And sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit, I'm passing a compliment your way because I'm feeling a bit insecure and I hope you've noticed my contributions too. I try really hard to not do that, but it's an old habit that's hard to break. It's like saying "I'm sorry" when you really want the other person to say "I'm sorry, too."

Until I read your question, it never would have occurred to me that my compliments could even seem malicious, maybe unnecessary from time to time, but never, ever malicious. You've helped me rethink how I approach compliments and I will attempt to cut down, however, I'm still going to tell you your shoes are cute if they are. I'll still tell coworkers that a project would have been easier if they'd been on the committee, because it's true. I'm still going to be stupidly impressed with someone who can do something that I just can't comprehend. If you can do complex math in your head, I'm gonna call you a genius. That's just how my brain works.
posted by teleri025 at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

If it's just that you feel uncomfortable getting compliments, you probably just have to learn to live with it. If you're competent at a thing, people will tend to say exaggeratedly nice things to you about it.

On the other hand, there are definitely situations where you shouldn't let compliments pass unchallenged. My experience has been that people sometimes (unintentionally) use compliments to you as a way of excusing their own shortcomings. Seeing you do something well forces others to question why they don't do the same thing so well, especially if they work in similar positions to you. Sometimes an easy way out is to conclude that "Conspire is just spectacularly good at X", thereby removing the requirement that they match your level of competence. Because if you're only "pretty good" at X, then they might be expected to do the same.

My usual strategy when this happens to acknowledge the compliment, but push back against the implication that it was warranted. I usually say something like "It's kind of you to say so, but it's not hard: anyone can do it with practice". I think your first example is one of those. The fact is that the people who were in the meeting ought to have resolved the situation themselves: claiming that you would have fixed it is kind of a backhanded compliment. It's nice that they respect your skills, but it was their responsibility to fix, not yours. Unless you want the responsibility for being the crack negotiator, you should not allow people to cast you as one. That one you should push back against.

However, you can't do this for all compliments. It only works if you apply this strategy narrowly, only to those cases where people are putting you on a pedestal to avoid thinking about their own performance. If you generalise it to pointless everyday compliments (e.g, about your appearance) it will lose any effectiveness. Those sorts of things you should just acknowledge graciously.
posted by mixing at 2:32 PM on September 13, 2013

Hm... I say lighten up about it a bit. What is their intention in complimenting you? It is probably to make you feel comfortable and good. If anyone wants to say that I look like I need to be on the cover of Vanity Fair, I'm going to say, "Uhhh.... thanks!" and get a chuckle out of the fact they said it whether I find it to be based in reality or not. And heartily appreciate that they wanted to share their misguided notion with me :-) (Hasn't happened yet!)

I'm thinking compliments of any nature generally shouldn't harm you personally as you say they are doing. Do you feel like you are being judged on your outer presentation and people don't know who you really are, or something like that? If so, be forward with them and share your real personality with them. The stuff about you not liking compliments about your appearance because you feel unattractive sounds insecure and a slight bit vain maybe.

If you think their positive ideas about you are way out in left field, deflect it good naturedly with a joke and say, "haha, you need to get to know me better!" or whatever is natural. Can you practice just giving them a smile and a thank you? Because that's probably the least awkward for everyone.
posted by mermily at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I say this as someone extremely insecure about my looks. Re: appearance compliments, if you say anything other than "thank you" with a smile, you are making your own issues into someone else's problem, which isn't nice at all. I do not mean to sound harsh...but the person who says "hey, that's a pretty dress" doesn't need to be made to feel bad just because you have internal struggles. Smile and say thank you. Really.
posted by skbw at 3:07 PM on September 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

I've answered at least one other post the following way, this time I found the exact quote:

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing.”

― Richard P. Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

(This was in reference to job offers he'd received from universities, and for all we know about the specific teaching job, his modesty might have been justified)
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Receiving general compliments that for whatever reason you feel you do not wholly deserve is sort of like finding money on the ground on an empty street or parking lot. It's a windfall that you can't really return or pass on to whomever the deserving party might be. You yourself might truly be the deserving party. Put it in your pocket for later and say thank you.

Receiving credit for someone else's work is like finding money on a populated sidewalk. You do your best to return/redirect it to the responsible party, but it may not always be possible. You can always pass on the compliments to the person you feel should receive them yourself. As with found money, you can assuage your conscience by giving it away to someone else. If you feel genuinely besieged by compliments, give some away yourself. Get into the habit of both gracefully giving and receiving compliments and general kindnesses.

From your responses to our responses it seems like you may have some issues with self-esteem and anxiety. You may want to discuss this further with a therapist or a good friend.
posted by elizardbits at 3:26 PM on September 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

Mostly lighten up and say "What a kind thing to say" or something grateful. If someone is claiming you could have saved the day, start a discussion about others who could save the day and review what was wrong with the day.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:33 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all, click on your tag "compliments" to see a bunch of other questions over the years that people have asked along these lines. It is common to have some trouble accepting compliments. But even so, the situation is simple. You nearly always should respond to a compliment by saying "thank you."

Second, accept that you are within the normal range of humans. You're good, you're doing just fine, you're fine looking, and people intending to be friendly will offer compliments that are just meant to be pleasant acknowledgments of this. It's a tough world, we give each other tiny pep talks. This is a beautiful thing.

Third, if you seem to disparage yourself ("I'm so bad looking"), friendly people will do this even more ("you're great looking, don't be so hard on yourself").

Note, none of this is lying, because it's not aiming to be an exchange of objective facts in the first place. It is a social grooming/bonding/friendliness thing. They are being friendly and maybe also giving you a little boost when you seem unusually, unreasonably, down.

The compliment about the missed meeting might be in this friendly-social-grooming vein too - it might just be a friendly way to say "hey, we had the meeting without you, but please don't feel left out, here is a friendly joke about how your strengths would have been useful, just to remind you that we still feel like you are part of the team." (Plus complaining about the minor shared annoyance at the other guy serves a bonding function.)

Rebutting it comes off as either "I reject your friendly ritual", or "I am so insecure or vain that I believe you must genuinely want to have a frank discussion about my looks, so let's really dig in to this topic"... or seeming like you are fishing for more compliments. The only graceful response to these kind of compliments is "thank you" or "that's kind" -- or "thanks, you look good too!". You can add a friendly "ha ha" or "aw shucks," but that's as far as it goes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:45 PM on September 13, 2013 [16 favorites]

Compliments like "you have such beautiful hair!" are just a sort of social lubricant. People generally do not care about your hair, whether you got it from your mom or dad, how much you paid to have it colored. They're saying it because you're physically there and it's nicer than silence. The only correct response is "thank you!" and ideally a response like "I was just thinking how cute your shoes are!" or some equivalent pleasantry.

With regard to things like a hasty Board appointment, consider that they were probably looking for people to serve on the Board and that there is benefit to them as well in getting the spot filled. Again: "thank you" and your best effort to do an excellent job.

Just remember to respond in polite kind to the pleasantries.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:05 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to keep in mind - compliments always say more about the person giving them than the person being complimented. They aren't about you, they are about the other person's perception of you, or the other person wanting to be nice, or sometimes the other person having a particular fixation that you happen to align with at the moment. For example: if I'm thinking of dyeing my hair red I will become hyper aware of other redheads and am very likely to compliment someone with a particularly great shade. At any other time, I may not even notice their hair. So my compliment was about me being focused on hair color, not about the other person objectively having the best possible hair color ever.

Thinking of it this way has helped me be much less awkward about accepting compliments, because instead of getting all self-conscious and self-critical, I just think "wow, what a nice thing to say!" and respond accordingly.
posted by ella wren at 4:28 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think some variation of "Oh, it's awfully kind of you to say that!" (paraphrased so you don't sound too much like Katharine Hepburn) is a good place to start.

If it seems like the compliment is heading in the direction of "and since you're so clever, we're going to dump a huge pile of work on you," then you can add, "I am terribly flattered you have such a high opinion of my weasel-wrangling abilities, but honestly everyone on the team worked on that project just as hard as I did, if not harder."

Third step, I suppose, if there is further pressing, would be something like, "No, honestly, you're very kind to say such nice things, but realistically what you're proposing is not something I'm suited for. But thank you anyway!"

It might help you can keep this light and smiley, behaving as if you are perceiving the compliments as the "social lubricant" mentioned above, i.e., just making nice as a part of conversation. At the very least this gives you the out later on to say, "Oh, heavens, I didn't think you were serious! Of course I can't do a webinar on weasel-wrangling: I wouldn't even know where to start!"
posted by La Cieca at 5:06 PM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

the best thing to do when people compliment you is to just say "thank you". rebutting compliments kinda makes you look foolish to be honest. the problem is probably that your thinking is very literal--black & white. when people compliment you they don't necessarily mean it literally like being able to solve that entire work conflict. they just mean you would have helped. just go with the flow when people compliment you and do not argue with them. maybe get some therapy for self-esteem issues. your perceptions of yourself sound like they veer from really poor to really high (e.g. the way you say you have exaggerated your capabilities) which is again black & white thinking. also, i really don't think people are maliciously complimenting you either.
posted by wildflower at 5:08 PM on September 13, 2013

I just want to say a quick thing about being on boards, especially non-profits. Boards like to have smart people. People who express themselves well are huge assets. You are not expected to be an expert. Experts are hired as staff (hopefully.) You are perhaps showing signs of leadership skill which is kind of an ephemeral thing -- which makes you valuable to boards, committees and such. Be thankful for the offers you will receive and take the ones you care about. You will learned so much and interact with such interesting people. Refuse other offers with thanks, well wishes and move on.

I hope you find a way to scale down your misgivings about being "expected too much of" by exercising your gift. I always thought of board meetings as charitable social events with homework instead of ticket sales. Non-profit boards are labors of love. In the end, we all benefit from works that come from the heart.
posted by maggieb at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

> "How do I gracefully rebutt compliments I genuinely do not deserve?"

There's really no graceful way to do this because in doing so you're basically saying "You're wrong" or "You're lying" to the person giving you the compliment and those are not accusations that most people appreciate.

> "within thirty minutes of a very disorganized conversation of the nature of of my work that greatly glossed over many of the details of my experiences, they were offering me a board position"

That's more a sign of a dysfunctional organization than a commentary on your charisma or anything else you should feel responsible for. Even if you were sincerely the best ever at everything, any well-run organization would take time to get to know you and your past work and see you in action in a lower-stakes capacity before offering you a board position. That board position was probably vacant for a good reason.

> "I feel like a lot of the compliments are mocking my appearance or white lies in a bid to quell my insecurities about it."

I seriously doubt that anyone you know now is mocking you -- you're not in high school anymore! -- but it's quite possible that some people are indeed telling you white lies. One of the quickest ways to put an end to the white lies is to stop putting people into situations where they feel like they must tell them. If you say "I'm hideous" and the person you say that to says nothing, many people feel like that means they are agreeing you and to some people that seems almost as bad as them saying "you're hideous" directly. If they're not the type of person to go around saying "you're hideous" to people then they're going to disagree and say something nice about your appearance so they can stop worrying about inadvertently insulting you via omission.

As your internet friend, I don't know what you look like (as apparently I'm not worthy of seeing your cosplay pics, *pouts*) but I do know how you talk about yourself and your appearance. While this AskMe suggests that your personal motivations for constantly putting yourself down are atypical, for most people, constantly putting oneself down when talking with one's friends is a form of fishing for compliments/attention. If you don't like these fish, stop fishing!

If you need an objective person to talk with about your insecurities about your looks and abilities, then I suggest getting a therapist. Because if you continue constantly putting yourself down while talking to your friends then of course we're going to tell you you're wrong and that you're lovely and smart and generally defend your worth as a human being because we don't let anyone talk shit about our friends like that, even about themselves.

Let's declare a moratorium on Conspire saying bad things about Conspire for a while, OK? In real life as well as online. I think that would help with several of your problems, including this AskMe complaint about receiving too many "undeserved" compliments.


posted by Jacqueline at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've also been getting compliments on my appearance, which feel very weird and off-base as I'm genuinely not attractive at all

Just say "Thank You". Sincerer complements become awkward if you attempt to dismiss them, and if it was an insincere complement you don't want to be reacting to it in an unusual way.

But who are you to say the person complementing you is wrong? Maybe they really do think you have nice eyes, or that color looks great on you, or they do like your shoes, or think the saying on your shirt is witty.

If these complements are things like "nice ass", a reply is not necessary. If there are complements like that in work settings, keep a record of who said what and when in case you decide to take action.

Wait -- someone mentioned you doing cosplay? If you don't want your appearance to be noticed and don't want complements on what you are wearing, cosplay is not going to get you there, unless you don't mind complements on your full body mech suits or something.
posted by yohko at 11:33 PM on September 13, 2013

On the "everyone was saying" type of compliment: Don't take that too literally, unless the person reporting this gave you specific examples. This may be more of an impression this person had, from what she thinks of you combined with what someone else said and maybe somebody else politely agreed with, and suddenly in your friend's mind you were the talk of the group.

Case in point: Once a long time ago, I emailed a blogger to tell him how much I liked a sweet blog post he had written about a girl, and said something to the effect that "women were in love with him all over the Internet". He called me out on it-- "what women? where?" and then when I tried to come up with examples I realized that other than my own crushy feelings I had basically seen one woman mention him online in a gooshy kind of way, and someone in her comments agreed, and somehow my impression became that he had a lot of women crushing on him which was obviously not exactly true. I wasn't lying, it was just my personal impression, but it wasn't exactly accurate. So maybe your friend had something like this going on.

On appearance compliments: agreeing with others that "Thank you" is the most graceful way to move on from the compliment without triggering an uncomfortable follow up of some sort. Last weekend at a festival (where a lot of very nice handmade jewelry was being sold by various vendors) a lady told me she liked my necklace, which is sort of funky and offbeat and cute and looks like something you might buy from a craftsperson (which I didn't.)

I smiled and said "thank you" and then added "JC Penney!" and then there was this awkward moment where she didn't know what to say and then (because I am a dork who doesn't know when to shut up) I felt compelled to add "I do surprisingly well there sometimes!" and she just smiled sort of awkwardly and nodded and I felt like an idiot. I should have just said thank you and let her think I had found it at some cool shop somewhere.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:06 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you are taking the compliments more seriously than they are intended. Not that the people don't mean what they are saying, of course, but just that their thought process about giving the compliment isn't as detailed as yours is about deflecting it.

They are probably thinking in much broader terms: "I think Conspire would have made this meeting go better" = "Conspire, *everyone* was wishing you were here! You'd save the day!!"

"We need to fill the XYZ seat on the board, Conspire seems perfectly competent to us" = "You'd be great in this position!"

There is a certain kind of compliment that grates on me, which is the kind that doesn't acknowledge any work I've actually done. "Oh, you have such a knack for that!" or "You are a genius at subject X!"

Instead of taking that as a slight on my efforts, I just take them to mean "wow, you make it look easy!"

In short, take compliments to mean what you want them to mean. They are saying a nice thing to you about you, thank them for it and feel good that you are being recognized.
posted by gjc at 5:14 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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