It is a well-known fact that Irish people are exceedingly bad when it comes to accepting a compliment. We’re all “Thanks, Penneys” when we hear the words – practically a standard counter-comment to anything fashion related – brushing them off instead of gratefully saying a simple “thank you.” This extends outside our country, though. Most people hate getting a compliment. But why?
According to Quartz, it can come down to the logistics of modesty: “One simple explanation might be that they – the person left on the receiving end of the compliment – are left at an impasse: to take a compliment is to violate the norm of modesty, yet to deflect or disagree with the compliment is to undermine its social function.”
Can economics explain things?
But they also use economics to explain our awkwardness; “to say thank you and thus, to accept the compliment, is essentially to go into debt.” So, in other words, you can’t simply take a compliment without wanting to offer something in return, and that could be what makes it impossible to accept one and move on.
As they explain, most people are comfortable with the “give-and-take” method. So, you give a gift and then feel better about taking one yourself. But in the rare circumstances when they’re not prepared with a counter-gift or a responding compliment, they can be left with feelings of guilt. “Receiving a gift could make one feel like a debtor trapped in a cycle of economic exchange. People don’t like the feeling of being under obligation and try to discharge the perceived inequality as quickly as possible,” according to Quartz. Hence the “this old thing?” deflecting responses that come almost anytime someone receives an out-of-the-blue compliment.
But even going back to basics, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to accepting one; the general worry is that if you take a compliment without offering one, you’ll seem cocky and if you brush it off you’ll seem rude.
To avoid all this mentally draining To-ing and Fro-ing, it’s best to stop overthinking it; graciously accept the compliment because you’ve earned it. You’ve put extra effort into something worthy of kind words so why not embrace it? It’ll make both parties feel good, and one day you can be sure you’ll feel the need to return the favour.