3 Steps to Accepting a Compliment

November 27, 2017

Have you ever noticed that some people just can’t take a compliment?

I invest a ton of time and energy reminding Christ-followers (including myself) of the importance of encouraging one another.  But have you noticed that some people are hard to encourage?

They may not even realize it. But a compliment triggers something inside them that shouts, “you are unworthy.”  For whatever reason, they feel awkward being appreciated.

Copyright: ivelin DepositPhoto18908817

Before I mention the three steps to accepting a compliment let’s briefly look at some reasons people struggle.

Why Some People Can’t Receive a Compliment

Insecurity or Fear

They might be afraid that they can’t live up to the higher standard in the future. Some people have been bullied into submission by friends or family members afraid of being outshined.  They’ve been conditioned to think it is unsafe to be celebrated.


They might feel unworthy because they are intensely aware of the imperfections in the product or performance that the average person would never even notice.


This comes from a different place.  To give the benefit of the doubt, some people have worked very hard to be able to fulfill their role in life.  Whether it be an entertainer, teacher, speaker, or political leader, they may feel that the average person isn’t even qualified to evaluate their performance.  To be fair, I’m not sure I would want to have an untrained person conduct an annual review that would impact my salary or job security.  But anytime we offer a product or service to the world, every single consumer is in the position to evaluate our offering as worthy of their time and hard-earned money.

Whatever the reason, I have seen people so uncomfortable in receiving a compliment, that they belittle or even abuse the person giving the compliment.  In an effort to appear humble, some people reject the compliment by criticizing themselves to compensate for the compliment.  I’m often amazed at how willing humans are to pounce on the self-destruct button.

How to Give a Compliment

I write much about how to encourage people but for now, I want to focus on an important character trait—humility.

In our attempt to encourage, we need to be humble.  When we encourage people, it should be all about them.  This is not an opportunity for us to give them a gift of encouragement and then wait for them to reciprocate.  Also, unless you are a trained and respected expert in their field, this is not the time, to give a grade or a rating like a teacher or Olympic judge.

I may not be able to sufficiently judge someone’s offering but I do know how it made me feel.

If I say, “that was really good,” the other person, aware of the seeming multitude of minor flaws may have trouble accepting the compliment as valid.  But I have found that when I focus on how much I enjoyed or appreciated their offering, it short circuits their inner critic.

How to Receive a Compliment.

If you have trouble accepting encouragement, can I share something that might help?

When I was much younger I worked as a DJ in radio and clubs.  I was pretty good at what I did and became somewhat of a local celebrity (in a five-block neighborhood in New York City).  Thankfully, I would get a lot of compliments. It felt weird at first, but I found a great way to work through it.

Three Steps

  1. Accept the compliment.
  2. Thank them for it.
  3. Return the compliment.

Example: “Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.”

It’s short and sweet!  It’s win/win!  Everyone leaves the encounter encouraged and affirmed.

You allow them to obey God’s command to encourage one another. You return the compliment and the blessing by thanking them for their observation, courage, and kindness in sharing their observation and appreciation of your work.

After all, even if there were some objective standard by which we could say that our performance was the most excellent performance ever delivered, no one is under any obligation to give a compliment.  The fact that a person has made the effort to connect and humbled themselves to lift you up and celebrate you reveals a lot about their character.  You can affirm the encourager in all sincerity and integrity.

Let’s Practice

I am serious.  Being prepared helps reality be much easier to deal with.

  1. Let’s assume you just received a compliment.
  2. Say “Thank You”!
  3. Say “That’s very nice of you to say” or something similar.


  1. We should accept their feedback. To do otherwise is rude (under normal, healthy, and ethical circumstances of course)
  2. We should also be grateful for their feedback.
  3. Returning the favor is a way if “Paying it forward.” I may not know anything about the other person except that they were kind and thoughtful enough to give a compliment. That alone means they are an extraordinary person! (The ordinary person only draws attention to problems. That’s one of the reasons they remain ordinary.)

By accepting a compliment with gratitude and returning the compliment everyone walks away feeling good about themselves!

I’ve been surprised to see how many people are in the same boat. For some reason, we like to encourage other people that have trouble receiving it ourselves.

You got this.  Please let me know how it goes in the comments below.


Kevin Cunningham

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