Giving and receiving compliments is not just a socio-linguistic grace but also a communication skill indicator. It forges bonds, demolishes communication barriers, is the quickest ice breaker and is a sure shot way of improving ones’ positive self worth.
Janet Holmes (1988, 1995) qualifies it such, ‘A compliment is a speech act which explicitly or implicitly attributes credit to someone other than the speaker, usually the person addressed, for some ‘good’ (possession, characteristic, skill etc.) which is positively valued by the speaker and the hearer.’
A definite win-win for both the speaker and the listener.
Wait, though, while we give compliments generously or not; we certainly are hesitant in receiving one, fully. Yes, the first question that usually crops up, when someone pays a compliment to you- ‘Who me?’. The acceptance and response, clearly works at linguistic and cultural levels. In some cultural contexts, it is a norm to give and receive compliments fully, frequently, while in others, this openness in acceptance, is still hard to come by.
Reasons for deflecting a compliment may range from, being under confident, wary of coming across as vain, skirting a spotlight, being defensive irrationally, judging the giver’s motive, to name a few. So watch out for these signs.
Following is mostly our response: (No, not an exhaustive list, an indicative sample, for sure)
- ‘No way, my team did it all! (Refusal)
- ‘Seriously, you think so?’ (Questioning the giver)
- ‘You too did well.’ (Returning the compliment)
- ‘Oh! Today must be a lucky day that the speech went off without a glitch!’ (Qualifying the praise)
- ‘You mean the other presentations weren’t that great?’ (Fishing/Reinterpreting/Comparing)
or worse still ignore them completely.
So, What Next?
Yes, a plain simple, well meaning, ‘thank you’ will work in most situations. The idea is to sound sincere, not fling half-hearted and hardly intended, semi compliments, back at the giver (‘You did okay too’). Sure, return the compliment but, know that you don’t have to do so, that very moment. There will be time for that later. Even if you feel that the moment will slip you by- choose to first graciously fully accept your compliment before jumping on to the bandwagon.
Thanks but no Thanks?
Qualifying the thank you with something meatier and matching it with the tone, would help complement the ‘Thanks’. Polite to say, ‘Why, thank you!’, ‘Many thanks!’, ‘Appreciate your kind words’, ‘Thank you, too kind’ ‘Thank you, your appreciation means a lot’.
The worst would be overstating the achievement as an acceptance. ‘I did, didn’t I?’ as a response to, ‘You did well’, might come across as arrogance. Equally; refusing, rejecting downgrading a compliment would be questioning the giver’s intention, negating her/his presence, challenging their judgment too, depending upon the case.
Best to say the following- ‘I did work hard on the text, thank you.’ Or ‘My team and I are glad that you loved the presentation, thank you so much.’ Or …last .. ‘Your appreciation means a lot to us. Thank you indeed’.
Where be you?
Of course the linguistic choice of conveying a compliment would depend upon the situation- that will decide the formality and informality and the intended meaning will stamp the inflection of the voice. A sincere reception of a well meaning compliment can help establish a non-threatening work atmosphere and give a personnel, due credit for a job well done!
The idea is to accept the fact that complimenting and accepting it, falls under the purview of professional networking sphere. The choice of words in doing so and deciding upon the aspects to complement one upon, may not make or break it, but can surely mould a sound working relationship. Good luck to us!