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Sometimes I'll be talking with someone who will slip an "indirect" compliment into the conversation. Two examples:

(1) I was visiting my doctor for a somewhat "childish" (for lack of a better word) medical problem -- something that some people would associate with immaturity. At one point, we had this exchange:

Me: [Says something rather polite]

Doctor: You know, my [medical issue I'm there for] patients are always the most mature ones.

(2) This one is a little fuzzy and I might be misremembering, but it's still a good example. I was in my high school's computer programming club, and I was talking with the club adviser (who was also the only CS teacher at the school) about something I'd coded.

Me: It was a little easier than I thought it would be. [Note: This was only intended as a comment about my prediction of how hard it would be, not about my skill level.]

Adviser: [Smiling] Well, some people just have a natural gift for this sort of thing.

In both of these examples, I responded by laughing awkwardly, perhaps muttering "thanks", and looking around the room until the conversation rebooted. I feel that that was somewhat rude, as though I rejected their compliments. However, the only alternatives I see are:

(a) Accept the compliment as I would any other, with a phrase like "thanks, I try". This feels clumsy to me, because all the other person technically said was a neutral comment ("some people do this, some people do that") and I would be treating it like a comment about me in particular.

(b) Verbally acknowledge that "You have complimented me", and then move on to a normal reply to the compliment. This feels wrong as well, because stating "you have complimented me" (or worse, repeating a part of the compliment) would, I think, come off as bragging.

Should I have somehow acknowledged that the thing they said was intended as a compliment at me? If so, how? What is the gracious way to accept compliments like these?

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I have had great success with

I'll take that as a compliment

Followed by a grin that suggests perhaps I'm being a little cheeky in taking a compliment where it might not have been intended.

People pretty much always smile and say something positive when I do that. I've also used it when people say things that could be taken as positive or negative, like "you've given me a lot to think about" or "this meeting has turned everything upside down".

It would be a very rare person who would respond by contradicting you that they didn't intend to be nice at all. Although your adviser comes close in supporting the myth of "natural gifts" for things instead of replying something like "when you prepare for a challenge it's common to find it pretty easy" which acknowledges the work you probably put in.

  • Thank you for your answer! I want to make a side note that the "natural gifts" comment was definitely delivered as a compliment, not intended to belittle the work I'd put in, and may in fact have been phrased differently. I'll edit my question to make that clear. As a new user I can't upvote your answer even though it's an answer on my question ( -.-), but I'll come back and accept it in a little while, provided there are no better answers. – MegaWidget Feb 4 '18 at 3:00
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    @RandolphCarter I disagree and find that an unhelpful and inaccurate belief. These things can be learned and taught. Someone who has them before they get to CS class happened to have been taught them - by circumstances, their parents, a previous teacher who was technically teaching math or some other subject. They are very much possible to learn and saying they aren't excludes people who come to CS later in life. – Kate Gregory Feb 4 '18 at 13:57
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Feb 5 '18 at 1:42
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You do not have to say anything. A fleeting smile combined with a slight nod while closing your eyes shortly is a great option in my opinion.

  • You acknowledge of what the person you are talking to just said, removing the potentional awkward- or even rudeness that could arise by just ignoring.
  • As a nonverbal signal, it is as vague as the indirect compliment as it can mean anything between "Thank you" and "You are correct". While vagueness in general is not something you should aim for in communication, in this case it is very beneficial to you as your conversational partner will most likely interpret it in a positive way fitting their intend they had with the indirect compliment/remark.
  • It is a "soft hook". The conversation can continue as normal (no need to "reboot") without being awkward or the other person can pick up on it and reinforce their compliment if they so desire.

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