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Working in an average university, it's pretty common to get flattering comments from students (who more often than not pass it just to please the teacher), but recently I am facing a new problem of flattering comments from colleagues.

Examples

I would give some real examples to give you an idea:

  • There is one colleague who is pretty close like a friend - the first time I heard some flattering comment, I tried to pretend as if I didn't notice/hear but despite my best tries (even trying to tell him politely that I daily see myself in mirror and there is nothing which you saw) comments like, "you look handsome", "looking a hero today", "you get a lot of looks", etc. keep on coming.
  • There is another colleague who isn't close like a friend but he often passes through and passes a comment like "Programming Guru is here" and I have politely told him a number of times (last time in detail) that I am not a good programmer at all.

What I have tried so far

I have tried both approaches "Pretend as if nothing happened" and politely asking them the reason behind what did they find in me to name me as "Programming Guru", etc. (Should I show them my StackOverflow profile as evidence?)

Why I don't want these comments

Maybe they are honest but 1-) If I said, I don't like it, then it must be respected. 2-) I know myself and I find very embarrassed by this advanced way of pinching. Whenever I hear someone being over-polite or some flattering comments, it gives me huge nightmares as I know myself from inside. I thought about trying @TinkeringBell's "bore them out" approach but it's not working either as I feel pretty insecure by these comments and want bit rapid response (without losing a friend/colleague).

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    @TorstenLink Feel free to write an answer if you state that you are from Europe AND can explain why the stereotypes work. It's the thought behind using these stereotypes that counts and might work for OP as well. – Tinkeringbell Sep 22 '17 at 12:07
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    In Europe the stereotype I am aiming at is that "every person looking like he is from Pakistan, must be a programming guru", as that is the job that a lot of people from Pakistan are here for... So naming someone a programming guru could probably just be joking and using that stereotype over here... This will not work in Pakistan itself... – Torsten Link Sep 22 '17 at 12:22
  • @TorstenLink Agree! – Failed Scientist Sep 22 '17 at 12:24
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    I'm adding this as a comment because it doesn't directly answer your question... but I just wanted to suggest that you read a little about Impostor Syndrome (the super common belief that you aren't qualified/skilled enough when all objective evidence implies you're just as qualified/skilled as anyone else in your position), as it sounds like your feelings about your own abilities are stressing you out in a significant way (nightmares, etc.). This is independent of your coworkers' compliments being inappropriately excessive, and you have every right to want them to stop :) – Dandan Sep 22 '17 at 15:09
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    Maybe the OP via personal charm has unwittingly deluded his acquaintances into overestimating his abilities, making him like Bebe from an old South Park episode. – agc Sep 30 '17 at 4:49
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For your purposes I am assuming here that their compliments are not genuine and it is flattery. This was never a problem for me as I likes compliments, but by studying Sociology and then experiencing such behavior I understood its 'inner workings', so as not to be affected/ influenced by insincere compliments.

Please remember that if flattery has no selfish underlying motive as such, then it is a social device to win friends and influence people. I am Indian myself: flattery is part of South Asian culture and in my experience persons with less social power will flatter persons with more social power. Never the vice versa. It's our duty to ourself to recognize which is a sincere compliment and which is flattery. For which we need an accurate objective understanding of our own talents and capabilities.

Assuming that you do not want to tell them outright to stop flattering you, then I might suggest the following 3 options to upset the trend:

(1) Just ignore -- simplest option and your job is not to give them the 'social reward' of flattery: you should not be more friendly and you can even be less friendly which means their flattery becomes useless. So they may eventually stop it.

(2) Change the subject -- whenever you receive an excessive compliment, just start talking about something very different. This is a silent signal to the person that you do not welcome the flattering comments.

(3) Flatter them back excessively -- that upsets the perceived social power equation of flattery and confuses the other person. Then they will understand how you feel when they flatter you!

So please read all these other excellent answers, make up your mind which is the best approach for you; try it out and do give us your feedback OK!

  • I am sorry I can give you only one vote here! Point 3 is what really works in our environment and actually I often use it as flatterers-repellent, just some are too stubborn. But I really liked your answer! – Failed Scientist Sep 23 '17 at 0:58
  • Glad to give you these ideas to deal with it, @Talha Irfan. I was mainly following method 1 myself: ignoring comments that I assessed to be flattery, and trying to not give them what they wanted, which was indirect influence over my decisions. Note that i have also approved your suggested formatting edits. – English Student Sep 23 '17 at 1:16
  • But as you know, people are stubborn and diverse plus they try to get extra frank/bump into you, so point 1 and 2 alone are never safe until complemented by point 3 (or even 4: Shut up! as last solution) – Failed Scientist Sep 23 '17 at 1:30
  • I tend not to give them anything at all but if you are bold enough then method 3 can be interesting and last option 4 will certainly achieve your intended result @Talha Irfan. – English Student Sep 23 '17 at 1:33
  • not to give them anything at all Indeed that's the key! – Failed Scientist Sep 23 '17 at 1:44
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I think that you're being too indirect. I don't know how well this advice will apply in Pakistan, but I am assuming that it's trans-cultural enough.

The standard way to deflect a compliment in the U.S. is to negate it ("No, you're too kind" or something similar). Many people ignore compliments as well, but that doesn't express to the person giving the compliment that you would prefer they not do so and can be interpreted (here) as being somewhat rude. Negating allows you to address the compliment in conversation without accepting it at face value (which can be viewed as arrogant) or offending the person complimenting you.

Trying to find out why someone made a compliment (as with the "programming guru" comment) might be interesting but doesn't seem practical. If your goal is to not receive such compliments it doesn't really matter if they are sincere, awkward praise, small talk, or anything else. Additionally, investigating this doesn't convey to the other person that you would prefer not to receive such a compliment.

As for how to stop the compliments from coming, this is yet another case where I think that being direct is really the only option. Indirect measures, like silently ignoring a comment and hoping that the other person deciphers your silence and interprets it correctly, are difficult because you are not really expressing what you want in a way that others can be expected to interpret correctly, and so they don't really have the opportunity to behave in the way that would make you most comfortable. So what I would do is respond by saying something like

"I'm flattered that you think so much of me as a programmer, but calling me a 'programming guru' is too much. It actually makes me a bit uncomfortable because that title is so grand."

You can also include a specific request that they not use that term, or offer an alternative, or any number of other things. But the key is that you: deflect the comment (acknowledge the sincerity, assumed or otherwise, of the speaker without accepting the compliment at face value), and clearly express to the other person that the compliments make you uncomfortable (without making it "their fault" that their nice gesture happened to make you feel uncomfortable).

  • Thanks for very good answer - maybe I should add it in the question that "butter-polishing" has become a part of culture in Pakistan and no matter how much straight face you keep to assert you are not liking the compliment, they will keep repeating it. Its tough situation I know – Failed Scientist Sep 22 '17 at 12:38
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I've never been good at accepting compliments/flattery either. I often thought them confusing, not really understanding why people would get it in their head to compliment me. After all, there were a lot more people in the world that were better looking/ more skilled.

(even trying to tell him politely that I daily see myself in mirror and there is nothing which you saw) comments like, "you look handsome", "looking a hero today", "you get a lot of looks", etc. keep on coming.

I don't have supermodel looks either. So these comments used to confuse me a lot. Until I figured out that if somebody tells me I look nice today, they are probably complimenting the effort I put into my clothing, hair or makeup that day. They might even be seeing that I spent a few minutes in the sun and have a nice color on my face (not as pale as usually).

I know myself and I find very embarrassed by this advanced way of pinching.

I'll start with point 2, since this is the easiest: It's okay to feel uncomfortable when getting a compliment. Blush, smile, say thank you and move on. People most likely will find your reaction 'cute' (at least, that what I'm often told). There is nothing wrong with showing that you are a humble person.

That said, it might be exactly this reaction that has your co-workers complimenting you. Only then, they are doing it to tease you. Teasing a person sometimes is okay, teasing you so much it borders on bullying is not. Have you tried a firm "Stop teasing me?".

If I said, I don't like it, then it must be respected.

Okay, so have clearly stated "Stop teasing, I don't like it". Mentioning the word 'teasing' is important in my opinion since it conveys clearly how you think about your co-workers and their endless stream of compliments.

Or you could mention that their behavior feels more like they are bullying you since the high frequency and ridiculousness of some of their compliments make you think that they aren't serious at all. You could even threaten to take this to a higher authority (manager/boss) if they keep it up: you asked them to stop, they didn't so now it has grown into bullying.

But you can't really get people to stop offering you compliments. I think this might reduce the frequency of how often you get them:

You also said this yesterday/ You have already stated this thrice this week. Please, if you want to compliment me, do it sparsely. I can't really take you seriously if you make the same compliment so often.

This might work especially well if those people are just trying to make compliments/flatter you because they want something from you/ want you to hold them in high esteem. They want you to think well of them, so they are most likely to adhere to your wishes.

That being said, unless you are very sure that they compliments are made because they know that it causes you discomfort, there is really not much you can do other than saying a quick 'Thank you' and move on.

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    Moving to Mars is also an option. Fingers Crossed! – Failed Scientist Sep 22 '17 at 13:42
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Recommendation:

Whenever you get a comment you don't like, remind the person with faint irritation, e.g.:

"Knock it off, Bill."

No big speeches, no psychoanalysis. Just simple, mild social operant conditioning. It's hard to tell from text above if your coworkers are being friendly, or digging at you in some way. If they do seem hurt, as if you're rebuffing a kindness, you could expand, "I just don't like talk about what I look like."

Now me being me, I'd go off about "In my little town, I was the handsomest little thing. It got to be a problem. I never had to pay for candy. Dogs would follow me home. I was about to get (deservedly) spanked by the principal, when he said I was too cute to wallop. You can imagine how that turned out..." But that would be counterproductive here. Simplicity is best.

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Don't tell them directly, but make them feel that you don't like flattery using your gesture and posture. Like if they flatter you again interrupt them before they complete their statement and start talking to others while ignoring them. Don't let them finish their flattering statement, ignore them and start talking to others nearby, changing the topic.

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    as i have not faced this type of problem for so long i had only that solution .hope you get the solution for flattering bugs soon... – user26733 Sep 22 '17 at 12:14

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