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Sometimes I get compliments like: "good job on making that website" or that I look nice or something. I often say that much more people look better or I could have done the site better, or even saying that I didn't do a good job.

So my question: Is is socially acceptable to dismiss a compliment? Or is that considered as "rude"?

BTW, I put the autism tag there just because I am an autist

closed as primarily opinion-based by Ælis, Lux Claridge, sphennings, Alina Cretu, Rainbacon Jun 26 at 14:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Please do not answer in comments. If you have an answer, write it as an answer. Comments are for requesting clarifications and suggesting improvements to the question; answers in comments will be deleted. – HDE 226868 Jan 3 '18 at 14:56
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    I could have done the site better - could this also be a sign of impostor syndrome? As a programmer myself, I can't help but hear echos of this in my own experiences and feelings... specifically Undermining one's own achievements and Discounting praise. How do you respond to praise when you feel like you've done something "anyone" could do? (Never mind the fact that what you do isn't something normal people can do or minor by any stretch of the imagination). – WernerCD Jan 3 '18 at 19:28
  • @WernerCD When I think it's something anyone could do, I usually try to deny the compliment (reason for this question). I always was a bit condescending to myself. I don't know if this is a sign of imposter syndrome, sounds like it could be – Termatinator Jan 3 '18 at 19:59
  • @Termatinator Ah, yes of course. I wasn't paying attention, sorry about that. That does prompt the question, though: what is the norm in your country? Are compliments typically given freely and often, or are they uncommon and treasured? Are they received with a happy laugh, or with quiet humility, or blushing embarrassment? – Aiken Drum Jan 5 '18 at 12:46
  • @AikenDrum I think you can compare the norm to the UK – Termatinator Jan 5 '18 at 13:46

16 Answers 16

29

Yes, directly dismissing a compliment is rude, and will be frustrating to the person who gave the compliment.

With that said, you aren't required to agree with them to graciously accept the compliment. It might also be helpful to keep in mind that they aren't saying you did a perfect job or that you're the most gorgeous person on the planet. When someone gives a compliment, they are focusing on the bits that they like. It's their prerogative to like what they like, so there is no reason to argue with them over it.

Imagine how you would feel if every time you spoke well of something, someone else denigrated it. You say you like a movie, and they say it's awful. You comment on a pretty dress, and they say it's hideous. It'll quickly become discouraging, won't it? That's how people feel when you regularly dismiss their compliments of you. You're telling them the things they like are actually terrible, which is insulting and dismissive.

That's not to say you can never disagree, of course, but you shouldn't make it a constant habit, and you should try to do so in a positive way. Instead of responding to a compliment on your appearance with, "No, I look like a mess!" try something like "you really think so? The wind made a total mess of my hair on the way over; I think it looks like I didn't even brush it this morning." Then they might agree your hair is a disaster but they love your outfit, or they might say they happen to like your messy hairdo. The difference between the two responses is instead of outright saying they are completely wrong, you are giving your own specific opinion. Don't push this though; you should accept the compliment without objection the second time, and don't do this too often.

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    I agree with this answer most and I think it gets to the heart of the question. In my experience, people see compliments that they give as reflections of themselves and how they see the world. When you diminish a compliment with an otherwise humble response, for many people you are diminishing something they value and take fairly personally. I've been given so many compliments I don't think I "deserve", and I learned from people's reactions that the only way to handle them gracefully is to say "thank you" and give any credit due to anyone else involved when appropriate. – Todd Wilcox Jan 3 '18 at 17:36
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    @ToddWilcox My pet theory is that by diminishing a compliment, you're refusing their attempt to build a positive relationship with you. They're extending their hand and watch how you react. If you ignore the hand or bat it away, you're telling them "I want nothing to do with you!" – AllTheKingsHorses Jan 4 '18 at 12:25
  • Having spend my live living in Canada, Sweden and Germany, I could very well imagine that for North America you are right (saying that denying/dismissing a compliment is rude); however in Sweden it would be save to deny it and in Germany at least OK, and Martin in his comment indicates that it would be OK in England, too. So with the Netherlands being right in the middle of those countries, I wonder, wound you say your answer holds particularly also for the Netherlands? – matec Jan 4 '18 at 20:10
  • @matec truthfully I don't know if it's true in the Netherlands, but I've had friends from Europe and this generally holds true with them. Maybe you can get away with indirectly disagreeing with something like "oh, you're too kind", but directly contradicting their compliment ("no, I look horrible") is probably going to annoy most people, especially if you do it constantly. – Kat Jan 5 '18 at 23:40
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Rude would be arguing with the compliment. An honest gracious response is, generally, not rude.

Humility is also important, which you seem to have a good deal of. That's a good thing as well.

I understand your struggle with human interactions. There's never a good rule of "if this, then do that" or if there is, there are a ton of exceptions to that rule.

The best thing to do is simply say, "Really? Thanks!" and leave it at that. If there's a way to share credit, that goes a long way as well. Something like (for the website), "It wasn't just me; I worked with a team. I'll pass that along." If it's that you look nice, something like (if it's true), "My SO helped me select that" or "the salesperson thought this would look good"

@RRauenza added an excellent point: deflection can also be a valid response. For example, WRT the web page: "Thanks! I/The team worked really hard on it!" Or WRT clothing: "Thanks! I spent quite a while picking it out." I'd only do this if true, and not with every compliment.

I wouldn't deny every compliment; that can seem like false humility. Accept it, smile, say thank you, and move on. Don't get too hung up on motivation - be happy that someone noticed whatever it is.

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    In the end, compliments like "good job!" or "you look nice!" just mean that they think the job you did or the way you look are nice enough to be worth a compliment. Surely you have a deeper knowledge and can judge better, but why spoil the compliment? They saw something and they liked it. So be it! :) – walen Jan 4 '18 at 7:38
  • @walen I just feel like I didn't earn the compliment, so I don't feel comfortable with it – Termatinator Jan 4 '18 at 9:29
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    @Termatinator: Not wanting to take what hasn't been earned is an admirable attitude to have. OTOH, do you reject gifts from friends because you haven't earned them? I see compliments are gifts, to be given and received freely, not something one has to earn. The person offering the compliment is not obligated to offer it, after all. – Tom Barron Jan 4 '18 at 12:42
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    @Termatinator: Oh, okay. I do see your not wanting to take what hasn't been earned as admirable. I guess I see gifts as being in a different category. I don't think I've earned the air that I breathe but I still breathe it. :) – Tom Barron Jan 4 '18 at 13:08
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    @termatinator you don't have to earn compliments or gifts. They are given at the other persons discretion. – user3316 Jan 4 '18 at 15:45
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I think in most situations, coming off as rude is going to depend a lot on your tone. I feel like one of the safest answers to nicely dismissing a compliment might be to preface it with 'thanks':

"Thanks, but I feel like I could've made the interface more user friendly."

"Thanks, I feel like I could've done better."

"Thanks, even though I feel like I look gross today."

Saying "thanks" first isn't necessarily agreeing with the compliment, but that you appreciate them trying to make the effort to appreciate your work/appearance/etc.

This is important because the biggest risk you run when dismissing a compliment is not in your disagreement with the individual's opinion, but in making someone who is making an effort to try to compliment you feel invalidated of an opinion by a response that might seem aggressive (immediately pointing out all the reasons why they're wrong).

Saying "thanks, but -" or "thanks, even though I feel -" helps iterate that you heard them and aren't (bluntly put) implying they are stupid for saying whatever they said (i.e. What's your problem that you can't you see all these imperfections I'm pointing out to you?), before pointing out the reasons why you disagree with them.

Basically, saying "thanks" is really saying "thanks for seeing the good things" before you point out the flaws to them.

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    One observation I'd like to add: saying "thanks" with a flat affect can inadvertently come across as (dryly) sarcastic or depressed. I don't know if the OP struggles with this particular issue, but it's worth being aware of, as it's possible to practice intonation and body cues like smiling to make the response feel more genuine. – Dan Bryant Jan 3 '18 at 16:52
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There is nothing wrong with saying thanks. If someone gives you a compliment and you are proud of what you did, you can just say thank you to them. If you put a lot of effort in the website or your appearance and you feel glad they noticed, you can definitely say thank you.

If you didn't feel like it was your best (maybe you see the flaws others don't), then you can say thanks but then say afterwards what makes you hesitate. "Thanks, I wasn't sure about x,y,z".

The real important thing is to be honest and genuine in your response. Don't pretend to be humble if you are proud of your work. If you're proud, say thank you! If you're hesitant, then say thanks but talk about why you're not sure about it. There is no need to reject the compliment.

Remember too that how you portray yourself is really important in professional environments. If a client paid you to make a website and then complimented you on it, don't put yourself down! Have faith in your abilities and what you do. If you don't have confidence in your abilities, why would a potential client have confidence in you?

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In some cultures (eg some Asian cultures) it is more socially acceptable to "deny" it than to accept it unchallenged, such as by saying "It's not as good as I wanted" or "I could have done better". But this doesn't really exist in western culture.

In general I would say there is nothing rude about doing this, as long as you put it like this. It would be a problem only if you were to question or insult the person giving the compliment, such as by implying they have bad taste if they liked that. But that's definitely not what you were suggesting.

Here's some different responses to a compliment:

  • Thanking them for the compliment.

    Always appropriate and acceptable. You can add "I was happy with how it turned out too" or something. Note: the only exception to this is if you come from one of the cultures I mentioned before where you're expected to feign it.

  • Giving other people credit

    This is seen as gracious and polite and very appropriate when other people really did contribute to the final result.

  • Thanking them, but saying you could have done better or you aren't happy with the result.

    This is fine. I don't see any problem with it.

  • Not thanking them, and implying that they are wrong to compliment you

    This is slightly rude. For example, if you say "You sure? It's not really that good" you are questioning their judgement.

  • Not thanking them, and explicitly insulting them for having such poor judgement.

    Obviously avoid this.

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    Interesting. As a Brit born in the late 50's, I would consider "You sure? It's not really that good." as typical polite humility. It's not something I would expect from an American, and I don't know where the Netherlands fits. – Martin Bonner Jan 3 '18 at 11:35
  • "In some cultures (eg some Asian cultures) it is more socially acceptable to "deny" it than to accept it unchallenged" I take your word for it, but, does that not then make compliments themselves socially unacceptable in those cultures? I don't know, I'm asking. – Beanluc Jan 3 '18 at 20:46
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    @Beanluc: Not necessarily. In such cultures, it's often acceptable and accepted that there will be a back and forth. (It'd be seen as impolite/inappropriate to boast about something yourself.) This is also often true of gift-giving: person A gives B a gift, B politely refuses, A insists, maybe it repeats once or twice more, and then eventually B accepts the gift. – V2Blast Jan 3 '18 at 21:30
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    @Beanluc I can give an example. In Japan, there is a culture of exaggerated or insincere compliments followed by denials, in which the speaker expects the following denial. If you unexpectedly respond by accepting the compliments or agreeing with them, it can be rather awkward since in many cases the person you're responding to didn't really believe what they said in the first place. Even if they do, it tends not to be socially acceptable to agree. The compliments themselves, though, are acceptable or even expected behavior. – snailcar Jan 5 '18 at 6:36
  • I have to agree with @MartinBonner slightly (though I'm a much younger Brit). Britons also traditionally accept "not really, I could have done better" as a response to a compliment. There's actually a large amount of cultural differences between Britain and the US, despite both being dumped in the 'westerner' barrel. +1 for mentioning the culture of some asian countries, people sometimes seem to forget that what's considered acceptable social behaviour can be quite different in other countries. (e.g. why tattooed people are sometimes thrown out of onsens.) – Pharap Jan 5 '18 at 11:04
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The 'autism' tag is extremely relevant here and your self-description as autistic gives us a major clue why you would feel like denying a compliment.

I am no expert on autism but have read in multiple places that some persons with autism give much importance to the literal truth of a statement. Example: it's a nasty rainy day and for some reason

a random stranger says: "nice weather ain't it!" (may be either an innocent social statement or a sarcastic/ ironic comment); a person with autism might say in response : "no, it's nasty wet weather."

In that context your question is very relevant because, as noted by so many previous answers here, denying a compliment in a direct way (because you consider the statement literally untrue) can be interpreted as needlessly ill-mannered in certain cultures including Europe and USA. Whereas a humble self-deprecating 'denial' is actually expected in many Asian cultures!

In your case, may I suggest that along with understanding why you might feel like denying the compliment, you would also find it useful to think about why people pay someone a compliment in the first place:

  1. paying someone a compliment is a typical social behavior aimed at expressing appreciation and being nice to people, which is a basic human need.
  2. Compliments are also the "currency" of niceness and serve as building blocks of social bonding.
  3. Moreover, the need for approval is a very strong motivating factor for most individuals engaging in interpersonal interactions, and compliments are a major means of providing that (reward of) social approval.
  4. In short, giving and receiving compliments is an important form of friendly social interaction.

So people either really appreciate you or your work -- there's a very high chance of that -- or else they want to be nice, which is a typical friendly action. In both cases it is socially useful and 'expected' behavior to accept the compliment either non-verbally with a nod and a smile, or verbally with a simple "thanks."

However, if you feel like denying it politely, there is a classic response:

thanks, but you are too kind!

No need to explain why. Thus you can have your cake and eat it too.

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Another way to accept the compliment and note that you aspire to do better (I think part of what's important to you is setting high standards) is to say,

Thanks, I learned a lot from this project--next time I work on something like this I will add x because it would enhance y.

In that case, someone might get excited about your idea and they could help make it happen on the existing project. If not, it shows that you are focused, observant, and have good ideas while also recognizing that nothing is perfect.

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It will very likely be rude, awkward, or both, to deny a compliment.

There is no social etiquette in central Europe (that I am aware of) that tells you to deny praise. So, one perfectly fine way to answer is to simply say "thank you".

Seeing that you added the autism tag, I assume that things like this do not come naturally to you. You can actually practice to do that. I know that if you are in that situation, you may feel insecure how to respond. If you have a ready-made answer ("thank you"), you can just spool that off, and be done with it.

Try to deliver it sincerely with a smile, but not going excited and glowing all over, and it will be nice for the complimenter as well, and a mature response.

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It's rude to deny a compliment, in the Netherlands.

So, just swallow your opinion and say: "Thank you." or "Dank je.". Nothing more is needed. If you a appreciate the help you have gotten from others, you can give them praise as well. Things like: "I have had help from ...".

Why is this so? Dutch culture, in the east and north more so then the south and west, is direct and to the point. Praise is earned, with hard work. Some one went out of their way to compliment you.

Now, you might not agree to others praise: you might still see (mayor) flaws in what you have made. Some one else might have done it better. But they did not do so. (or even if they did it better) Your opinion on the compliment might be right. Their compliment does not change the actual product. File the compliment somewhere, and unless you care about the persons opinion you leave it there.

*Source: Dutch myself.

  • I think I get your point, that if someone tells you "you look great, man" you're best of with a "thank you". But what if you started a website and it still looks horrible and someone says "you made a really nice website there", maybe there are even other people around who might take a "thank you" as agreeing, wouldn't it be also a good option to say "glad you like it, but I thought it still looks kind-of ugly"? – matec Jan 4 '18 at 20:43
  • @matec, some opinions matter, others, well, less. A website designer's opinion might be better then your neighbour's. That being said, some times a compliment is just meant to encourage you. Either way, a compliment is a compliment, just take it. – Flummox Jan 5 '18 at 8:21
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We must not oppose a belief, contrary to the facts. Do not respond negatively to a belief like "good work", but answer a simple "Thank you" or nothing at all if you are against the idea, or comfort it in its belief if you share it.

Later, when you talk about facts, construction, security or others, you can contradict it with your personal experience.

  • "Your website is beautiful." → belief
  • "Your site is the most beautiful." → fact
  • "Your site can not be more beautiful." → belief
  • "I have never seen such a beautiful site." → fact

For management methods or work, I refer you to the maieutics.

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Somewhat difficult to answer, given we don't know where you are from. Different cultures tackle this in different ways, in some western cultures it can be considered rude to disagree, whereas in, say, Japan, you're almost required to do so, even if you do agree.

Most cultures I've seen actually go in shades of grey of this, as in, it's rude to outright deny it, but you have some leeway to work around it. I say that because I too have struggled with this in the past, coming from a culture in which not only is it required to accept the compliment, but also to compliment the person back (think like 'you look nice', 'oh thanks, you too').

What I normally do: first express that you disagree with it, and then express gratitude that the other person thinks so high of you. As such: "you did a great job with that website!" "really? I thought it turned out so-so at best, by I'm glad to see it pleased you". What I've seen is that more people are left unphased by your dismissal if you end it in a positive note, than if you first say thanks and then disagree (or if you just disagree and that's it).

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    I’m from the netherlands, I think it doesn’t change your answer, but I thought you’d like to know – Termatinator Jan 3 '18 at 17:26
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I think you may be misinterpreting the purpose of a compliment a little.

Typically, people give compliments because they want to make the other person feel good about themselves (I often give compliments I know aren't strictly accurate because I know hearing it would make the other person happy). You said in a comment, "I just feel like I didn't earn the compliment, so I don't feel comfortable with it", but lets look at an example.

If someone says "good job on making that website", I don't think they're necessarily saying:

"this is an objectively impressive thing you've done"

but rather:

"I want you to know I think you've done something impressive."

Which is (I think) a subtle but pretty big difference.

It's true that you could argue you haven't done something impressive. However, you can't argue that they shouldn't want to tell you that you have. That part is objectively true, and honestly, if you responded with "you shouldn't want to tell me that", that might be a little rude.

In that sense, it's hard to say you didn't "earn" a compliment, because compliments aren't strictly attached to merit. In a weird way, if someone gives you a compliment, that means you've already earned it; you've already done something that makes that person want you to feel good about yourself.

All in all, I think it's ok to deny that your accomplishment is as impressive as they're saying. However, this can't be done by denying that you "deserve" a compliment at all, and it can't be done too often. It's important to be mindful of why this person is giving you a compliment. Most of the time, you'll find it isn't to make an objective fact about you. Rather, it's to make you feel good about yourself, and usually getting mired down in whether or not you've done something "worthy" of feeling good is missing the point.

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When they say you did a good job they might compare to if they would have done it, so it can be interpreted as rude. ("My worst is better than your best").

Also i think you should maybe cut yourself some slack. You can always do something better given more time/energy, but sometime you need to be done also. Even masterpieces of famous artists could probably have been better if they would put more time into it. So you can interpret "good job" as "good job (for the constraints given)".

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I can't help thinking of the standard Mexican response to thanks:

de nada

Which does not mean "it was nothing, I had it done before breakfast because I'm so uber"... But more like "it was no trouble/ no great effort / not worth thanking me for".

So there is a Western precedent for the type of "you're welcome" that you are trying to give.

  • well, that's a standard spanish response, and I believe in French, and Portuguese it has this meaning, – Rainb Aug 4 '18 at 4:55
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I don't like to deny compliments because

1) It could potentially make the other person feel they have a lapse in judgement.

2) They will probably disagree, which leads to them just trying to force the compliment on you.

3) It can be generally off-putting, it's like refusing a verbal gift.

Instead just smile and say thank you, then change the subject.

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Truthfully NO it is not rude. I feel people these days understand that everyone is simply different. Some people for tonnes of reason's are what other people might call indifferent and don't like being complimented especially infront of certain people or in public. I feel the "some people" understand this for the most part and won't be offended if you deny it in a respectable manner.

How to respectfully decline a compliment would be explaining how you feel about the thing you are being complimented for after the initial declination.

But to really answer the question I think it is most important to be entirely honest and truthful. We live in a time at present where people lie (politicians especially, though I will stay on topic haha) and sometimes it is easier to just lie. It is important to be honest and true as it will make you a better person. So as long as you sincerely believe you don't deserve the compliment then I say it is fine to decline. If you are just socially awkward then that is fine too but make sure it is done respectfully and that you are mindful that you are not being entirely truthful.

TLDR; Be honest and tell the truth, or be mindful that you are not and it is actually effecting you as a person.

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