Complimenting Resistance


Most people I know like to receive compliments. Whether they are being complimented on how nice they look, how well they complete a task, or simply for having a beaming personality. There is something special about being acknowledged for an effort you have undertaken. Compliments make you feel good and do wonders for the ego.

At times compliments can turn out to be awkward for both the giver and the receiver. Like when complimenting someone on losing weight who in fact, hasn’t. Or paying someone a compliment (“You look nice today”) and the receiver is being particularly obtuse (“So you’re saying I don’t look nice on other days?”).

I have found there is a subtle danger to receiving compliments. That is the ego – or at least mine. I’m not saying I become some meglomaniac who struts around after being told I look particularly nice as if saying, “Yeah, that’s right. I do look nice, don’t I?” Narcissism isn’t my thing. I’m talking about a more subdued effect on the ego.

As an example, I have received compliments on being calm, cool, and collect. “I can’t imagine you ever getting angry” I’ve have actually heard this several times.

Trust me, I do get angry.

What I have noticed recently is that these types of compliments actually prevent me from speaking up when I feel passionately about something. It is as if the giver has set a bar for my behavior that I don’t want to move. I am resistant to giving voice to a subject in a genuine manner because I don’t want to break the façade the complimenter has unknowingly helped me construct. It is as if some little voice inside of me says, “Hey, they paid you a compliment. Don’t blow it now.”

Because this issue is mine, I am not proposing to cease complimenting others. Far from it. Even though some people feel uncomfortable responding to a received compliment (myself included – somehow just saying “Thank You” seems shallow to me), receiving and giving praise to another human is an important part of being a member of society.

I just find these internal conversations with my divine guide within to be interesting.

And it makes me wonder what a client would do if I complimented him or her on a personality trait I observe. For instance, if I say, “Jane, you always seem to be in control, no matter what the situation is.” Will Jane feel resistant to sharing that she, in truth, feels completely out of control? Have I unknowingly blocked genuine communication from Jane because she now thinks that if she shares how she really feels I will be disappointed? After all, I did pay her a compliment on how she handles situations.

One answer I can come up with is to put myself in Jane’s situation. How would I react? I know I would feel hesitant to open up about how completely out of control I truly feel; that I am futilely trying to plug holes in my life and there are more holes than I have the plugs for.

The best answer, I think, is to rely on empathy. If I am feeling that Jane truly isn’t in control then it would be foolish for me to say otherwise. I would not be being genuine with Jane and by trying to make her feel better or give her ego a boost, I might actually be doing the opposite.

Communication is an awesome dance because even though the steps keep changing and you may stumble a bit, it can still be graceful.


Categories: Communication, Counseling, Insight

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