The woman ahead of me in the coffee shop couldn’t have been more alarmed if I’d told her I was the Second Coming. See, I’d been standing behind her, full of admiration for how she’d put herself together that morning. Without the lovely coat, flattering makeup and chic hairdo, she would have been just another short, plump femme d’une certaine age. It wasn’t about the money she’d spent, but the effort she’d made. She looked fantastic, and I told her so.
Of course, my intention was to make her feel good. I’d have loved it if she’d acknowledged the praise. Even a self-deprecating retort about how it was yesterday’s blowdry still working its magic would have been ok. But instead, I made her feel uncomfortable, especially when everyone else looked around to check her out. The problem was she had no idea how to take a compliment. We both ended up feeling like a major social boundary had been transgressed and I should have stuck to ordering my flat white.
So how do you take a compliment then? Just saying thanks works. Acknowledging that it’s a generous thing to say is nice too. The key is not to worry about ferreting around for an immediate response in kind. The best compliments are a one-way street. And if the compliment reflects a special effort you’ve made – that Dukan diet, those Zumba classes, then you should feel justifiably proud of yourself. Then again, there’s nothing better than someone picking up on something you’d never considered worth praising – your kind nature, your infallible internal GPS system or your monthly donation to a good cause.
It doesn’t come naturally to us, accepting praise even when it’s due. We bat away compliments for fear of seeming vain or horrors, full of ourselves. Our comfort zone is hot denial (‘I’m the size of a house, are you blind?’), mitigation (‘This thing? Ten euro in Penneys! Be rags tomorrow!’) or awkward reciprocation (‘Er, you’re looking very nice too. What a lovely umbrella you have.’).
Enought, already. We all have to get better at learning togive and receive. And that means making a habit of it. Tell your friend she looks hot, or when her
efforts in the kitchen turn into delicious baked goods without a soggy bottom in sight. Celebrating achievement and efforts shouldn’t carry any baggage.
Jenny Coyle has opinions. See more @missmitford