Home » Library » Tongue-Tied by Compliments

Tongue-Tied by Compliments

Nothing oils the machinery of social interaction quite as nicely as do compliments. They signify that others are recognizing something special about you and making the effort to let you know they care enough to share that positive evaluation with you. It might be about your work, your ideas, sense of humor, appearance, or virtually anything that they feel is special about you. It feels good to be complimented and to give compliments. It can be the start of a strong social bond between compliment giver and receiver- usually. But rarely with shy folks. They usually greet compliments, that they desperately want, with an awkward silence that confuses the giver into not knowing if the compliment was heard or misunderstood. They almost never give out compliments, as if they were Scrooge’s apprentice.

It’s your first week on a new job and a coworker says to you, “I like your tie, interesting pattern.”

Boss says to you, “That was a good response to the auditor’s question.”

At a coffee break, a colleague says to you, “Your hair looks good in that new style.”

What do you say?

Basic Compliment Receiving 101

“Thanks!” is what you say, and all you have to say at a minimum.

Immediately respond with a positive acknowledgment of “Thanks,” timing is crucial, wait too long and is confusing, too soon and you are interrupting. Take a breath, and say loud and clear, “Thanks.”

Article continues below...
Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Intermediate Compliment Receiving builds beyond this basic minimum.

“Thanks, I really appreciate your feedback/input/evaluation/praise/compliment, it makes me feel good/ as if I did the right thing/ I made the right choice/ justified in my action. And you could elaborate and return the compliment and grease that social interaction a bit more:

“I especially appreciate that compliment coming from you/ whose wardrobe I have always admired/ whose opinion I respect/ who seem too busy to notice such things.” Advanced Compliment Receiving: Acknowledge, elaborate, return compliment, then use it to open a brief conversation. ” I always wondered where you buy your clothes, they fit you so well, or look so good on you.” “That reminds me to ask you how would you have dealt with a situation in which…”

Why This is Difficult For Shy People

Why don’t shy people simply accept compliments simply and graciously? Because compliments evaluations someone is making of you, and you always assume others are making critical, negative evaluations, so this positive one may be disguised, or is evidence the person is evaluative, or now it is good, but soon the other shoe will fall and the criticism and disdain will flow. So the shy perceive compliments as danger signs to withdraw from. Yet, if true, they feel good, are really desired. So we advise, go with the compliment as a natural expression of another person’s good feelings toward you, and settle for that simply and openly.

Give the world your compliment as a gift. Now go ahead and give compliments as often as possible to make others feel good about themselves and about YOU, the compliment giver.

But you have to honestly believe in the nature of the compliment, not give them falsely, or excessively, and you don’t want to be seen as fawning or sucking up, but simply expressing a feeling, an opinion, your evaluation of someone. The key is to be genuine and sincere and if that comes across the compliment is gift wrapped.

Last advice, in an extended relationship pace the intimacy of your compliments, starting with something obvious and public and moving gradually to statements of positive evaluation that are more private and personal.

For an exercise keep a day record of all the compliments you hear anyone giving or receiving and you will see that it is dying art, rarely practiced and often practiced badly. Then keep a record of all the compliments you give or receive and note how you felt and the reactions of the other party in this dynamic social interaction, it will help in your quest to be the world’s most effective compliment giver and gracious compliment receiver.

Tongue-Tied by Compliments

Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Steve Bressert, Ph.D. is a retired professor and clinician in clinical psychology. He writes occasionally for Psych Central and other mental health and psychology publications.

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2020). Tongue-Tied by Compliments. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.