Isn’t it nice to receive a compliment? Whether it’s “Hey, you look nice, today,” or “I love your new haircut,” to “You did an awesome job on that presentation.” A compliment makes you feel great, doesn’t it? You glow a little, you bask, and you enjoy the moment.
There are also occasions, though, when someone can compliment you too much. In that case, it stops being enjoyable and becomes uncomfortable.
Respond briefly with “Thank you, that’s very nice.” and then remove yourself from the situation as best you can. Avoid being rude or cynical; it will only inflame the situation unnecessarily.
Let’s look at some examples of “too many compliments” and see how we can handle the situation gracefully.
The Work Sycophant
Sometimes in the work environment, we run across people whose compliments are not necessarily genuine. However, they offer up compliments to gain our trust or favor.
It’s usually pretty darn easy to tell if this is that sort of situation because even after hearing the compliment, it doesn’t ring true. Or, they may go on and on, or take it too far. It can even become embarrassing to hear, especially in the company of others.
A simple “Nice presentation, Joe!” is sufficient. The sycophant will say something like, “Wow, that was amazing! May I have a link? You did so much research! I loved your slides.”
It gets embarrassing, especially if you’re around others. Your gut instinct is likely waving a flag, telling you that this person is simply trying to curry a favor.
So, how do we handle the work sycophant professionally?
Use professionalism and as much grace as you can.
“Thanks very much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
Don’t be rude, which will not help you, or improve others’ view of you. Odds are, anyone listening to someone rattle off fake compliments sees right through it. They will also be listening to see how you handle the situation.
If the tirade of compliments continues, you may need to say:
“I’d love to discuss this with you some more. Why don’t you send me an email, and we can talk about it further.”
“Hey, thank you! Appreciate your kind words. Well, I’m off to my next appointment.”
While there is less of this that goes on in the workplace, now, we still occasionally have to deal with The Creep. Both men and women have encounters of this type, but they should not be tolerated. Examples of these types of “compliments” might be, “Wow, you look really pretty/handsome today.” or, “Boy, that dress fits you nicely.”
This stuff is unprofessional and it’s totally out of line in the workplace. When called out, we’ve heard The Creep say, “I was just complimenting her/him.” Let’s be honest, nobody believes that.
“Compliments” in the workplace about personal appearances rarely are. They are more likely harassed, and should not be tolerated.
What to do or say? Call them out.
“You are making me feel uncomfortable.”
If a person in a workplace isn’t familiar with this phrase, they had better get with the program, or HR will. Once you say that phrase, you have made your point. We’d also suggest documenting it (date, time, location, witnesses, phrase stated). If you continue to receive “compliments” that make you feel uncomfortable, take your documentation to Human Resources and ask them to handle the situation.
The most difficult of these is if the person issuing the “compliments” is superior. It happens, but it shouldn’t. You should not be made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace.
We put “friend” in quotes because a real friend doesn’t give you fake compliments. A real, true friend will tell you like it is — whether it’s a bad choice in hair color, an outfit that makes you look frumpy, or a poor choice on a date.
A true friend is not going to compliment you when you need the truth.
If you’re asking whether a pair of jeans make your butt look big, they probably do, and you already knew it. However, if that “friend” says, “Oh, no, you look amazing!” . . . and you think you don’t . . . you are probably right about whether or not you are receiving a valid compliment.
It can be embarrassing if “friends” compliment everything you do, especially in front of others.
If the scenario is such that you are being repeatedly complimented in front of others, you might say:
“Jean it’s very nice to say those things, but it was a group effort.”
“Jean, thank you for saying those nice things, but I just think this is a terrible color on me.”
Jean may admire you greatly and want to be your “friend,” but in all honesty, we don’t need false friends.
The “Seeking Compliments” Person
You can get tricked into being the person who gives too many, or fake, compliments. How? By a person who is fishing for them. These are people who probably have low self-esteem. They’ll say disparaging, or uncomplimentary things about themselves, as a method of fishing for compliments. It’s human.
You don’t want someone to say something bad about themselves and not respond, correct? They also may just want attention. How do you handle this person?
This may be the hardest scenario of all. You don’t want to be rude or unsupportive. If it’s something along the lines of, “Your hair always looks great. Mine is terrible.” You could say:
“Well, we all have days where we feel good and days when we feel bad.”
But you don’t need to “buy into” trying to give compliments that aren’t genuine.
Compliments make us feel great, but only if they are genuine. People who over-compliment, or make insincere compliments, really don’t do much for our self-esteem and can trigger the opposite reaction.
If it’s real, handle it gracefully (“Thank you.”, “That’s very kind.” or “I appreciate that.”).
Too many compliments tend to mean less and less. They come off as insincere. If you are buying into the fake flattery, it may be that you have low self-esteem, or are looking for attention. If you are the recipient, strive for grace and kindness, but don’t encourage too many or false compliments.
Katie Haynes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.