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Deflecting Compliments

“Wow, you’ve lost weight.  You look great.”

Now what do you think when you hear a compliment like this?

“I must have really looked awful before because I don’t think I look great.”

“I didn’t lose weight to look good, I lost weight so I could keep up with the kids.”

“Now it’s your turn.”

I’ve finally put on weight since I got over COVID.”


“Thank you.”


From what I have observed and experienced personally, most people can’t handle compliments.  I know I can’t.

It’s not that they don’t like them; they don’t know what to do with them, which makes sense in our current cultural environment where many people are searching for an insult to take issue with.

When we receive a compliment, do we see it as an off-handed insult or sincere praise for who we are?

When someone offers you a compliment, they are saying they’ve observed and assessed a praiseworthy quality in you.  When you deflect or deny that praise, you’re basically contradicting them; you’re saying that they don’t have good judgment, discernment, or taste, or that they’re insincere – that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

You’re returning their kind words with an insult.

Why Deflect Compliments

Try this out.  Spend a day giving our compliments and record the responses.  You’ll hear, “It is nothing,” or, “That is my job,” or, “I could do better.”  People just routinely brush off positive comments.

Three factors make it hard to accept compliments:

  • low self-esteem – when someone compliments you, this jars with the truth you hold about yourself,
  • cognitive dissonance – because of your low self-esteem, you become confused because of the differing view of yourself, and
  • high expectations – a casual response lets you off the hook in case you don’t deserve the compliment next time.

What to Do When Given a Compliment

This is easy – and hard.  Just accept the compliment.

This may seem straightforward, but it is actually quite tricky for many of us to do gracefully.  We need to learn how to take gratitude and accept it for what it is.

Thank you – the compliment actually requires nothing of us but a simple thank you.  We don’t have to justify or explain our actions.  “Thank you, I appreciate it,” or “thank you, that means a lot,” along with a smile, will go a long way.

Value – Once you’ve mastered thanking someone for a compliment, try articulating its effect on you.

Does a compliment make you feel seen and worthy?  You could accept it by saying, “Thanks, it’s so satisfying to know that my work is making a difference.”

Remember it – Apparently, you did something that someone thought was praiseworthy.  So maybe that action should become part of your everyday routine.

Help others receive praise – Now that you have seen the value of receiving compliments, you will probably start to give compliments more generously.  And you will quickly be met with someone bent on deflecting your praise.  Don’t let them get away with it.

When they respond, “It is nothing,” stop them.  And explain why you gave the compliment and that they deserve the praise.  If they say,  “It’s no big deal,”  you need to tell them that it is a big deal and that you are happy for them.

They need someone to teach them to enjoy praise for their work, and that is the job of business leaders

The Bible

The Bible readily endorses praise but frequently cautions against flattery

Proverbs 26:28 says,

A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Praise, which always involves “a giving and a getting,” may not always be good.  It may be flattery.

Jude 1:16 reads,

These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; [a]they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

Compliments are praise for a job done well.  They are for the benefit of the receiver alone.

Flattery is using praise for the benefit of the person giving the praise, which is most likely of no benefit to the receiver.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to be adept at giving and receiving praise.  And should not condone flattery. 

Learn how to accept a compliment and then teach others how to do the same.