HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 6, 2007, Herald Journal

The compliment trap


Coming across with the compliments can be a bit like squeezing past a hot radiator without your britches; the situation presents plenty of opportunities to get burned.

On the surface, compliments may seem like an ordinary part of polite conversation, but, especially when one is dealing with women, things are much more complicated.

Guys do not get all neurotic about compliments.

We are generally able to accept them and move on with life.

When it comes to complimenting women, though, there are a whole bunch of unwritten rules that we have to try to figure out.

A woman can spend three hours getting ready to go out, and then be offended when a guy compliments her on her appearance.

Women do not see any contradiction in this. It has something to do with the way their minds work.

Women cannot just accept a compliment, they must first analyze the compliment, the person issuing the compliment, and the possible motivations behind the issuance of said compliment.

Different people can compliment a woman in exactly the same way, and, depending upon how she feels about that person, she might find the compliment kind, romantic, or creepy.

If a woman likes the guy who paid her a compliment, she is likely to look upon it favorably. If she does not like the guy, she is likely to place a negative connotation on it.

So now, guys need to try to assess how a woman might think of them before lashing out with an innocent compliment.

Even when a man and a woman are in a long-term relationship, it doesn’t get any easier.

Women admit that they want the men in their lives to compliment them more. They want to be recognized for what they do, and they want to feel appreciated and special.

But, when a guy does work up the courage to compliment a woman, she immediately begins analyzing it.

She questions whether she is worthy of the compliment. She questions the motivations of the person issuing the compliment, She compares the current compliment to others she has received in the past, and assesses whether the guy actually understands what he is complimenting her about.

For example, if a man compliments a woman on the outfit she is wearing, she must stop and consider whether the man in question has good fashion sense before she decides to take it as a compliment or as an insult.

Meanwhile, while the woman is busy with all of these mental gymnastics, the guy is left wondering what he has done to offend her this time.

The truth is, many of us have trouble giving and receiving compliments.

Sometimes, this is because of our background. If we did not grow up in an environment where we were exposed to compliments, it may not come naturally to us.

Sometimes it is cultural, since people from some countries do not want to call attention to themselves or appear too proud, and as a result, are uncomfortable with compliments.

Sometimes, of course, it is just because we are dealing with neurotic females.

The best way to handle this is to be specific, and compliment a certain accomplishment rather than the person. It is better, for example, to say, “You did a good job on that presentation,” rather than “You are really smart.”

One can also follow up a compliment with an open-ended question. In the example above, one might say, “You did a good job on that presentation. What did you do to prepare for it?” This can be an especially useful technique with women, because answering the question can distract them and they may just accept the compliment without analyzing it or blowing it off completely.

The most important thing for all of us to realize is that when we receive a compliment, it is OK to simply smile and say “thank you.”

We should appreciate the fact that someone went out of their way to say something nice about us, and we should be able to accept this without having to analyze the situation.

Face it, a compliment is better than an insult any day.