Column: How to accept a compliment


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Humility is tricky. On the one hand, you don’t want to look like a jerk by taking all the credit when the boss says, “Nice work on the executive Powerpoint presentation.” On the other hand, the “aw, shucks” response when someone appreciates something about you says to the world, “feel free to walk all over me.” So, the question of the day is: How do you accept a compliment?

If you noticed, I just used the word “compliment” spelled with an “i.” What’s the difference between compliment with an “i” and complement with an “e?” Let’s get to the bottom of this absurd, misheard word duo.

A compliment merely is when someone says something nice about you. It’s an expression of admiration or acclaim. “You have nice eyes.” “I really like how you peeled those sweet potatoes.” “You’re the best underhanded free-throw shooter on the whole basketball team.” Those are all examples of compliments.

Complements are a horse of a slightly different color. A complement is something that completes or perfects another thing. This is easy to remember because “complement” and “complete” look like similar words. When Forrest Gump told Jenny that they went together like peas and carrots, he was suggesting that Forrest and Jenny complement each other. Good wine pairings are examples of things that complement each other: The ‘62 Cabernet complemented the filet mignon superbly. There are several other examples of complementary categories, from math to music to color theory. Just remember that complement with an “e” looks like the word “complete.”

I think we worry that if we accept a compliment, we’ll come across as conceited or full of ourselves. No one wants to have the reputation of being cocky. However, I believe that when someone compliments you, you simply look him in the eye and respond with a genuine “Thank you, I really appreciate that.” Not only are you exuding a healthy level of confidence in your own skills, but you’re accepting the gift that the complimenter is attempting to give you.

When you don’t accept a compliment, it’s almost like someone gives you a gift, you open it, look at it, shake your head and give it back to the person. So, what I’m suggesting is that receiving a compliment from someone is the polite thing to do. It doesn’t make you an arrogant jerk; it makes you gracious. Just remember to return the favor next time you notice something good in the other person.