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I am currently a church musician (pianist) and have been at the same church for many years.

There is this one guy who quite frequently walks over to me while I'm playing, always making comments directed towards me such as "you just get better and better every week" or "you have more talent in your fingers than I have in my entire body". For one, I have not been working on increasing skill or learning more difficult music for the longest time, so I can't possibly get better by the week. On occasion, I even intentionally play music so simple that I use only one finger to play an entire song, and he still "compliments" me. Every time he does this, it becomes so repetitive, somewhat dishonest, and worthless, and all I've ever responded was "Thank you".

It's getting very annoying, and I find it more difficult not to roll my eyes or keep a straight face. I'm probably still going to respond with my best courteous "Thank you".

This same individual has voiced his opinion to someone else (I've overheard) that he thinks music in church is such a waste of time, and is the reason why he and his wife don't participate in congregational singing or attend music concerts held in church. And no, never has he specifically said to me that he appreciates my performance or even my efforts. To me, if one regards music in church as wasteful, it makes no sense to compliment at all those involved in it. So, whenever he "compliments" me, I feel like like he's being dishonest, or, if he really means it, I find the frequency of the complimenting quite creepy. I want to say something, but I don't know how to approach this kind of a situation.

I'm not sure if this is pertinent, but I know that this individual believes and upholds the idea that he can say anything he wants, and if ever it offends anyone, it's their fault; and to anyone even requesting him not to say certain things, he regards them as taking away his freedom of speech. I know this because he voices out these sentiments on his social media accounts. For those of you who really want to know how he reacts when told he is acting inappropriately - he posts stuff on his social media like:

  • "I'm crazy, weird, etc. That's how I am. Deal with it. I'm not changing my behavior to please anyone."
  • "You're telling me to shut up or act accordingly, so you are attempting to take away my right to speak my mind."
  • "Once again, Facebook reprimanded me for my behavior. They know nothing about my rights."
  • "I admit that people think that I think I know everything and are upset about it. That's their problem. I know a lot and their knowledge is all false information."

To me, those are clear enough indications that he doesn't want to be corrected, and any such attempts no matter how tactful, is equivalent to infringing his rights. I'll just suck it up and embrace the awkwardness of playing along as usual - much better than getting into a fight with someone like this, and yes, he carries a gun to church as he makes it visible, so I'll choose my safety just keep playing along.

So, for those who want to know, how do I tell someone if I detect they're being fake? Most of the time, I'll say nothing and give them back a fake smile. Sometimes, I'll tell them that they're too kind for saying such a thing. Sometimes, I'll tell them that I don't feel that I come up to par as they claim. No, I don't tell them off that "hey, you're being fake. Cut that out." But they stop complimenting me eventually. This guy doesn't.

How do you conduct yourself when interacting with a "chronic empty complimenter" who also happens to get angry at any hint that he should change his behavior?

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    Isn't your question actually something like "how do you deal with an irascible person who fakes appreciation towards my skills while undermining the value such skills have on my community"? – J A May 7 '18 at 17:08
  • That's right, but the said individual also tells me and others stuff like "you just get better looking every time I see you," which is annoying as well as false if people have gained unwanted weight, which is quite often the case. – Mickael Caruso May 7 '18 at 17:17
  • Oh, that last comment changed my assessment of the situation, is this person hitting on you? sounds like it – J A May 7 '18 at 17:24
  • @J A - That's, if anything, the last thing I would ever think of. BTW, I am a male, so no. – Mickael Caruso May 7 '18 at 17:29
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    "how do I [politely] tell someone if I detect they're being fake" - is your question really that you want to make it clear to him that you know the complements are fake (which you can't do politely, and is a short-term and intermediate goal), or do you want to know to how to get the complements to stop? IMO the reason the question was closed still applies - the title and primary (bold) question still asks what to do instead of how to do it - we can't tell you how to respond if you don't tell us what you hope to achieve. – NotThatGuy May 8 '18 at 11:07
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Situations involving backhanded compliments are tricky because if you escalate things, the other party can play the victim quite easily.

For example, if you tell him to stop, he can just say:

Well all I was doing was complimenting him and he made it into a big deal. What a jerk!

And other people will believe him, as they weren't there to experience the tension, buildup, and conflicting signals he's been throwing.

If you want him to stop, without escalating things yourself, you need deflect those compliments. You need to show him you really don't care what comes out of his mouth. But most importantly, you need to do it politely.

I believe you're already doing this, but make sure you're consistent and don't deviate.

When he "compliments" you, with a neutral face and tone, say:

Thanks

And almost as quickly as it took you to open your mouth, direct your attention back to what you were doing.

He'll get the message, and no one can fault you for not making a big deal out of nothing. If the situation escalates, just stay calm and state the facts. He complimented you, and you said thanks.

If he continues doing it, I'm sorry, but there's really nothing you can do. Just be cold. If he wants to throw words at a brick wall every day, that's his problem. You can't let it get to you, and by being cold, he knows that it doesn't.

Also, be sure to be very grateful for genuine compliments and discussion. He will learn that you can tell the difference.

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    That's exactly what I'm doing - cold and neutral "Thanks". So I know he's got issues. Depending on my mood, I sometimes think this situation is funny, but (a bit off-topic), I refuse to engage with this individual in a more personal level because I know how he is when someone tries to correct him. – Mickael Caruso May 7 '18 at 17:33
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    @MickaelCaruso Unfortunately, I think you're already doing what's best. Be as cold as possible without being mean. On a more personal level, you might want to try to control your internal reactions to his behavior, as you can't change it (could you imagine telling someone to stop complimenting you?). In the grand scope of things, he only wastes a few seconds of your day. That's not so bad. – Clay07g May 7 '18 at 17:36
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Perhaps instead of replying mindlessly, reply mindfully? Often, people just go through the motions with pleasantries without considering the content.

Consider the following exchange I've witnessed more than once:

Amy: Betty, hi! How are you?!

Betty: Good, how are you?

Amy: Good, how are you?

Betty: Good.

Amy: Good!

Betty and Amy are so conditioned to reply to that greeting with "Good, how are you" that neither seems to notice it was asked 3 times in a 2 person conversation. It is mindless/thoughtless communication. It is not useless, but the purpose of it is not to engage in meaningful discussion. Those who don't care much for this kind of conversation may be a little more thoughtful in their replies, and may not feel the need to reflectively inquire in response unless they are genuinely interested in the answer. When you give a thoughtful answer to a thoughtless question/statement, you can throw the asker off balance. It doesn't have to be rude, just substantial enough to be noticeably nonstandard.

When he says:

you just get better and better every week

You could say (while smiling and friendly):

I'm not sure that's true; I rarely play anything but these songs. Is there something specific that you've noticed has improved?

Now he is put on the spot, but really can't accuse you of correcting him or disagreeing him. He's off rhythm, but it's just due to an unusually frank response to his thoughtless compliments. This conversation is now more difficult than he probably is interested. But it is not outwardly adversarial.

When he says:

you have more talent in your fingers than I have in my entire body

You could reply (again, smiling and friendly):

It's certainly possible; I'm not sure what your talents are.

Here again, you have not corrected, disagreed with, or in any way asked him not to say "nice" things to you. But you have replied in a thoughtful way to something he thought nothing of when he spoke.

As a caveat, I'll note that thoughtful responses like these to what is intended to be mundane conversation can become tedious to people if that's all you do. Sometimes people just want you to say "good morning" and it's perfectly fine to do so. But when your goal is to get people to think harder about what they're really saying, it can help if you think harder about how you're replying.

  • This is probably the single best idea I've ever heard for dealing with backhanded compliments. I think the answer could be improved by describing more how this method relates to this more adversarial situation instead of just covering the case when people aren't being mindful. Specifically, I imagine the complimenter is being mindfully rude, but this still puts him on the spot. That tedious character you mention is also a feature rather than bug in this case; teasing isn't fun if you make it boring. – William Grobman May 10 '18 at 2:39
  • @WilliamGrobman thank you for the compliment. I considered addressing the antagonist in OP situation as a hostile, but I thought it would be more generous and more of a general case if I just treated him as a standard thoughtless communicator. Because there really doesn't need to be a difference. You can approach anyone with kindness. – Forklift May 10 '18 at 3:10
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If you want the complements to stop, saying "Thanks" probably isn't going to achieve that - body language and tone can only do so much - not everyone is good at picking up on that and you are still, after all, thanking him for the complement.

You could try:

  • Responding with a "sorry, what was that?" (or "huh?" if you want to be less polite), because no-one likes repeating themselves. After this you can respond with "thanks" or one of the below.
  • Responding with a more indifferent "OK" or
  • Simply giving him a small nod, ideally with a slightly confused or annoyed look on your face

After this you simply continue with what you were doing.

Repeat ad nauseam - doing it once or twice might be discounted as you being distracted or in a bad mood, so you should aim to do it every single time he complements you.

This gives a somewhat neutral acknowledgement of his complement, so he shouldn't be as offended as if you had ignored it or responded negatively, and it isn't quite as positive as "Thanks".

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Just to play devils advocate, seeing the more "deflective" answers you got already. I would try to take him more earnestly.

You are having a shallow relationship so far (well, obviously - you don't even like/respect him because he does those stupid things). Try to deepen it and make it meaningful.

Try to strike up an honest discussion with him. Not about the fact that he compliments you or about his facebook behaviour, but just about your common interests. I do assume that you are fascinated by your own music, or by the things going on in your congregation or whatever.

Try to move all those negative images you have about him away, treat him just like anyone you see for the first time, and chat with him, for as long as it works out. Steer the discussion away from any personal stuff about yourself. Get him to talk about him or his wife. Talk about your favourite music (or his). Show him some things your are playing, in detail. Show him how you sometimes are bored and play a piece with only one finger (have him play along, whatever).

All of these are just examples, obviously you have to find fitting topics or behaviours for yourself. But do try to engage more.

At the end of the day, it is about you gaining respect for him as a human being. Maybe understand him. Maybe you find out things about him that fill you with real understanding. It may not stop him from giving meaningless comments about your playing, but it may just lead to a more harmonious contact with him altogether.

Source: worked for me for very difficult people. Not all of them, sure, but some. Even if their behaviour did not change, simply understanding why they do it makes it easier to tolerate obnoxious behaviour.

6

I know this already has an accepted answer, but I feel compelled to offer my own because I'm not 100% convinced the accepted answer is the best way to deal with this.

There is a real possibility that any negative response you give to the antagonist in this case will be turned against you. But I think that "being cold" towards him is just as loaded as saying something back, because you mean to do it. I doubt very much that the intention in the previous answer is to shoot this guy a cold look and then admit afterwards that is what you were doing. I imagine the idea behind the accepted solution is to be aloof and then, if pulled up for it, say that wasn't what you intended. But lying of any sort is not accepted as an interpersonal solution here (or officially approved of by the church last time I checked, but trying not to bring the religious backdrop into the answer!) There must be a better way.

It sounds to me like the antagonist in this instance may be complimenting you for a reason. After all, you say that he believes he can "say anything he likes", so if he wants to insult you why doesn't he just insult you?

You say you are aware that this man has told others he believes music in church is "a waste of time", so he clearly has some issues with how things are run in your church, perhaps with individuals in authority, or perhaps his problem is just with authority in general. You are not the authority so right now his issues are with other people.

My best guesses on why he compliments you excessively and very deliberately are either (1) his problem with music in church extends to you and he's trying to feed your ego to see if you will do or say something he can find fault with, or (2) his problem is not with you and his compliments are his way of saying that while he has an issue with the authority behind the music that isn't to do with you. Either way, I believe that anything you say or do differently he could drag you into his issues while right now you are not strictly part of it.

My answer would be that you should continue as you are - say a simple "thank-you" and do so with a smile. Don't be aloof, or cold, or anything that could be interpreted as such. Be the better person in this scenario. He sounds like a troublemaker trying to find allies, but sooner or later it will come to a head. When it does, you don't want to be dragged into it in any way.

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    Why doesn't he just insult me to my face? I don't know. I know for a fact that he and his wife have made negative comments about my playing to the congregation in my absence. Family members and even the pastor's wife told me exactly what they said - "They said that your playing is just plain inappropriate and you can't accompany singers. Don't mind them. Keep on doing what you're doing." I've experimented with them (played in wrong key, wrong tempo) as their accompanist in their solos to see if they'll request me to modify to their needs - no. I've just confirmed they're backstabbers. – Mickael Caruso May 8 '18 at 11:14
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    @MickaelCaruso I'm a bit confused now because in your question you quoted him as saying that "music in church is a waste of time" rather than your music specifically and that he refuses to participate in congregation singing - but now you are saying he has described your playing as "inappropriate", and also that he takes solos? Which is it please and I'll happily modify my thoughts. – Astralbee May 8 '18 at 12:38
  • It seems conflicting, but yes, he did say music in church is a waste of time, but he does solos. The only resolution I can come up with is that it's not a waste of time as long as he's the one doing it up-front. So, that supports his conviction that he can do and say whatever he wants and that nobody should dare point out his inconsistencies. – Mickael Caruso May 8 '18 at 13:31
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Miss-understanding. People vary a lot, and some have various social and communication disorders.

If an interaction with an individual over years is just a short interaction, then whatever this interaction is, if it is positive, great.

I would take the opportunity with someone who shows an interest to find out their interest in music and what they like about it. Some are just tone deaf, appreciate musical gifts because they have none, and just want to show their appreciation.

So be very careful to judge or know where people are coming from and why. And encouraging appreciation is a good thing, no matter how repetitive. Too easily we down play those things that come easy to us.

So simply saying, "Thankyou, I appreciate you like my playing, I enjoy contributing to the worship." would work very well.

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I think I found the perfect solution.

You said this person doesn't react well to being contradicted and that you are getting tired of the repetitive scenario. So you could harmlessly spice things up by reinforcing his superficial praising with your own appreciation in a more meaningful way, towards yourself

Yeah, I'm awesome!

Or something similar that you feel confident with for being true, if you are the humble type of guy, like:

I'm definitely better than last year.

You will have fun and will feel in better control without rationalizing the whole thing, just try it and you will understand what I mean.

You will be punching his face summoning Loki, a punch that makes people laugh and not hold it against you.

Note: OP just disclosed to me by comments I was right from the start to deduce the man has power in the church. So I'll keep my initial solution down below for anyone on the web who would find it useful.

The alternative political strategy to overthrow this bureaucrat would be the following: If this person is perceived as having higher status than you (as in, people tend to listen to them and value this individual's opinion higher than yours) then the situation gets trickier.

You need to make sure there are people with higher hierarchical status who value what you bring to your community, if they appreciate the time and effort you put they can voice your concerns to them and even ask them to speak on your behalf to mitigate this negative person's influence.

An intelligent person will understand the positive vibes you bring to your congregation are more valuable than this other person's negativity, if it boils down to choosing between you or that other person, they will definitely chose you, and the other person will find themselves in the situation where they need to adjust their behavior or leave, that's their choice to make.

By the way, "choosing you" doesn't mean this person would be kicked out, it simply means the people you ask for support will take your side whenever pertinent, for example, if that person keeps expressing against music, so this person facing strong authority supporting the value of your participation will have to leave the topic alone, and might even stop approaching you to ascertain dominance over you with fake flattery/compliments, out of shame.

If you do want to confront that person yourself, and you feel like you don't have much to lose whether they have any influence(power) on your church or don't, you can simply say:

I don't appreciate your flattery

And simply go to talk to someone else, leaving this person without the option to reply to you. And you need to accept this strategy will result in this person probably now disliking you, given the personality type you described.

Yet, you might want to avoid direct confrontation because according to what you described on your text, this person does have influence, at least you don't mention people reject their comments about music being a waste of time. A person who voices their opinions while the rest remain quiet, certainly display they have power and influence through silence.

If I'm not assessing the situation correctly, please provide more details.

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    I don't think this question is about a competition about church status, power, and choosing between keeping or kicking out members. – Clay07g May 7 '18 at 17:18
  • It's not directly about it, but you are making a mistake at ignoring those factors have a huge influence on this particular matter. – J A May 7 '18 at 17:22
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    The question asked how to deal with the specific person, not the church. You're ignoring his question, and making odd assumptions about his situation. I know you are new to Stack Exchange. I suggest reading through some of the help articles to better understand how seriously we take scope here. – Clay07g May 7 '18 at 17:33
  • The church element was given as context, so it is within scope. If you don't like politics, that's another thing entirely. I'm offering experienced advice, the person asking is free to choose whatever answer they feel will help them better as they already showed, only time will tell if they made the right choice, my answer will help other people in similar situations. – J A May 7 '18 at 17:45
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    @J A - in case you're wondering, this individual holds one of the highest offices in church, so he does have overall influence on church issues and decisions. But he's not actively pushing to abolish or lessen music in church, or else, everybody would've known that they could be singing less in the near future. This is just my opinion, but the said person, I think craves a lot of power, but that's a different issue than his chronic empty complimenting. – Mickael Caruso May 7 '18 at 18:10
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I know this is a "conflict aversion" question, but sometimes a little conflict is what's needed. Just like a pimple, I think this needs to be brought to a head and popped. (BTW, according to my 20+ year experienced Registered Nurse sister, popping a zit is better than letting it grow out of control.)

My suggestion is to choose a full session of complicated music, such as the "Hallelujah chorus" from Handel's Messiah. Beethoven wrote complicated music for Catholic Mass, so I'm sure you can find appropriate music. This doesn't have to be concert level music, just whatever you can manage while still sounding really good.

Then the following Sunday, pick a full load of simple music, something on the order of a beginner's version of Ode To Joy (also by Beethoven).

When Mr. Compliments comes by and makes his "usual comments" on the simple music Sunday, state something like "You really think this is better than last week? Interesting...."

Sometimes all that's needed is an obvious reversal of roles for the Id-10-T to realize that you know what they are doing. Oftentimes, catching them in the act will get their behavior to come to an immediate full stop. Fortunately, they won't like it anymore than you do.

It doesn't work in all situations, but I've found it works decently well in something as "simple" as this.

Even if this person makes some snide comments behind your back about your comment, you should be able to weather that little bit of blow back by people realizing what a two-face the guy is.

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