How to Successfully Give (and Receive) a Compliment

It seems simple but almost all of us get it wrong

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Being appreciated for something we’ve done right is something we all strive to achieve – in the workplace, with our new outfit or for the birthday cake we’ve baked for a friend.

Ironically, although the majority of people are always eager to receive a compliment, many are unwilling to publicly accept it. In some cases, we rebuff the compliment altogether with a throw away, “it wasn’t very hard, honest!” you’re signalling much more than your inability to accept a compliment.

“When you devalue a compliment,” business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore explains, “you can send the message that you have a low self-esteem, aren’t confident in your work or don’t respect the opinion of the person who gave you the praise.”

The deflection of a compliment isn’t modest, as we tend to assume it is: it’s a denial of our own abilities and an unwillingness to accept things we may have done right.

Try to remember that a compliment is given in the spirit of boosting someone’s spirits by acknowledging there’s something they should be proud of. If you laugh it off, dull down the sentiment or imply the compliment was unfairly given, it insults the fact that the compliment was given at all. Your best option is always to accept it thankfully and graciously, which is easier said then done.


Here’s our guide to giving and accepting a compliment.



Body language and tone play a huge role in ensuring your message is understood in the exact way you wish to communicate it.

Looking the person in the eye, addressing them by name and adding a smile all ensure that your compliment is genuine in its direction and its nature. Similarly, don’t mumble or race your way through the compliment, as if you’re giving it unwillingly.

Being specific can also work to increase the value of your compliment. It’s also a clear indicator to the receiver of something they’ve done right and if they’re praised for it, they’re more likely to repeat it. Telling a colleague, “that spreadsheet you produced was really helpful – the colours were a really good way to differentiate tasks,” gives the receiver the boost of knowing they’ve performed something right but also what it is that they can repeat in future tasks.



Many of us find it much more difficult to receive a compliment than to give one.

The easiest way to receive the compliment is with sincere thanks: “Thank you – I really appreciate you saying so,” is an example of a simple, effective way to receive the acknowledgement. Don’t then fall into the trap of countering the compliment with another: “It’s not half as good as yours!”

This doesn’t seem at all genuine, even if it is – wait until you have an opportunity to give the compliment back as less of an awkward response to one given to you. If you feel it’s appropriate, you can counter their compliment in a way that acknowledges the fact that both of you deserve praise: “I also really enjoyed your talk, Sarah. I think we both came up with some unique ideas.”

If you feel uncomfortable about receiving the compliment because you want to acknowledge the work of others, “share” the compliment, don’t deny your part in it completely.

“Thank you, I really appreciate the sentiment – we all worked very hard on the project,” is an example.