Compliments and Criticism

Published On: October 4, 2015By

At first glance, a compliment appears easier to receive than criticism or rejection. However, each can be charged with emotion. You can learn to successfully handle them all.


Charlotte gave a brilliant performance during her violin concert and she knew it. The months of hard work and long hours of practice clearly showed. As her friends and colleagues complimented her achievement during the next several days, Charlotte found herself blushing and stammering. She was frustrated with her reaction. Knowing the compliments were genuinely deserved did nothing to calm her fear that they might not really be genuine on the part of those assuring her of her expertise.

When someone pays you a compliment, how do you react? Do you look for the other person’s motive? Do you shrug it off with tag lines such as, “Oh, it was nothing?” or “It had to be done anyway?” The confident communicator accepts the compliment as a frank expression of appreciation.

Some people suspect compliments are insincere. While not all compliments are genuine, you should assume the best. Say thank you and take the compliment at face value. If you feel uncomfortable receiving a compliment because you feel obligated to compliment the other person, understand that it is not necessary to reciprocate. However, it is important to acknowledge what the other person has said to you. You can do this verbally or nonverbally with a smile or a nod of recognition.

In addition to acknowledging the compliment verbally by saying thank you, you might want to indicate how you feel about what was said. Try adding, “I really appreciate that you notice my efforts,” or, “I’m glad you think so,” or, “Thanks for letting me know that.”

Avoid making excuses for the compliment by saying something like, “You caught me on a good day.” To discount the compliment with an irrelevant reply is a serious blow to your verbal communication power. Believe in yourself. Accept the compliment. You are a valuable person capable of doing something worthy of appreciation and admiration.

Compliments make us feel good about ourselves. If you can’t get a compliment anywhere, give yourself one. You become who you think you are. Avoid the tendency to criticize yourself. Believe in your talents and abilities. Young and old, we all have days that we say things to ourselves similar to:1.  “Nobody loves me.” 2.  “People are just plain rotten.” 3.  “Nobody listens to me.” 4.  “I am such a jerk.”

Whenever you catch yourself talking to yourself this way, turn it around and concentrate on positive labels. Just as children believe what they are told, so do we come to believe the messages we give ourselves. Turn negative statements like the above into positive thoughts by changing the negative to positive: 1.  “People respect me.” 2.  “People usually mean well.” 3.  “People listen to what I say.” 4.  “I am powerful when I communicate assertively.”

Continual self-doubt and criticism can bring about a downward spiral. Stop imagining the worst and consider ways to create a complimentary attitude.


Joseph lives in constant fear of losing his new job. Although he is well-qualified for his work in engineering, the criticisms he received the first couple of weeks in his position as he “learned the ropes” left him feeling insecure. He spends a lot of mental energy anticipating the next criticism by his boss and wondering how to avoid it.

We don’t experience inhibition just when we give and receive compliments. We feel the same inhibition when we give and receive criticism. Underlying the fear of giving and accepting criticism is the fear of rejection. When your self-esteem is low, it doesn’t take much to paralyze you with anxiety and fear at the moment of making or receiving critical remarks. Likewise, as your confidence level climbs higher with your increasing assertiveness, your ability to objectively evaluate criticism becomes stronger and clearer.

The element of surprise is one of the things that make criticism hard to take. Criticism that is least expected usually hurts the most. To overcome the fear of criticism, it is important to set up a step-by-step process that gradually desensitizes you to critical remarks whether they are anticipated or unexpected.

Take a good look at yourself. The assertive person is careful not to over-prepare or feel he must be constantly on guard. Be realistic. Know your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Prepare for three possible types of criticism:1.  Unrealistic criticism. 2.  Put-down criticism. 3.  Valid criticism.

Unrealistic criticism is ridiculous to the point of being opposite of the truth. The put-down may have an element of truth but is said in such a way as to patronize or insult rather than be productive. Valid criticism is realistic and stated in a straightforward, assertive manner.


Put-downs come in all shapes and sizes. They may be direct or indirect. From time to time, we all encounter put-downs and criticism. By using these communication techniques, you will be able to keep your head high: 1.  Allow the emotion to dissipate. 2.  Admit when you are wrong, even if you have been insulted. 3.  Acknowledge the other person’s feelings about the situation. 4.  Assert yourself in confronting the other person’s reactions to you. 5.  Draw the encounter to an end.

Here’s how this works: Recently Jake’s friend Susan dropped in to go to lunch with him. On his way out of the office, the phone rang. Jake stopped at Veronica’s desk to answer the phone. Unable to find a pen and paper on the desk to leave a message, he searched the desk drawer. In the middle of his search, Veronica returned to her desk. Seeing Jake go through her desk, she blew up. She shouted, “You jerk! You’ve got no business rummaging through my things. Get out of here!” Jake was stunned, angry and embarrassed in front of his friend. He kept his cool, though.

When Veronica finished, Jake said, “I apologize for moving the papers on your desk and opening the drawer to search for a pen. Obviously, you are upset. Your phone rang as I was on my way to lunch. I thought the call might be important and picked it up for you. There was no pen and paper on the desk to write you a note. I don’t like being yelled at for doing you a favor. Next time, please check the situation out before you jump on me.” Still angry, but with his cool in place, Jake and Susan proceeded out the door to lunch.

Indirect put-downs are trickier to handle. Not only do you have to deal with the emotion of the conflict, but you have to teach the other person to deal with you directly. For example, you wear your favorite sweater to your mother’s house and she says, “I just love that on you. Only you can get away with wearing a color like that.” How do you respond? Was it a compliment or a put-down? The strategy for handling situations like this is to seek more information. Ask for specifics. “What do you mean, Mom? Is this an unusual color? Does that mean you like it, Mom?” Your next response depends on the answers to these questions.

By doing this, you are modeling effective communication. If your mother doubts the beauty of your orange and black sweater, that’s okay. “You are right, Mom. Different strokes for different folks. I like this sweater. It suits my mood today.” Don’t let other people’s opinions intentionally or unintentionally deflate your balloon.


Nobody likes rejection, but the confident, assertive communicator knows that it is both natural and unavoidable. Rejection occurs when someone says no to your idea, request or action. Some people need the approval of other people. They are vulnerable when told no. The assertive person accepts no as a denial in a specific situation and doesn’t think she is rejected as a person.

Communication is the expression of another’s perception. No is not a rejection of you. It is the rejection of an idea. Don’t take it personally. This only complicates your ability to communicate and decreases your effectiveness and understanding of the situation. Don’t give up on people. While you might meet some dishonest manipulators who say no and mean it as a direct rejection of you, most want the same things from communication as you do.

No one likes to be talked down to. Nobody likes rejection. But honest and straightforward clarification of criticism or rejection helps you to resolve the conflict. Concentrate on remaining objective and not giving in to your emotions.

Conflict caused by criticism and rejection can be resolved if you put on your “assertive” face. Clarify the situation with yourself and the other involved. Don’t store up bad feelings of rejection and anger only to have them resurface at a later time. Clear the air. Express your feelings. Accept the feelings and information of the other person. Then move on.

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