Imagine this situation: For the past couple of weeks, you have been working on a major presentation to give to senior members of your department along with your colleagues.
You’ve spent hours organizing your ideas, coming up with the best way to express yourself, and double-checking your facts.
Today was the big day! You’ve spent the past hour going through your presentation and answering follow-up questions.
Now the meeting is over and people are moving on with their days. Overall, you think it went well, so you’re feeling pretty good about yourself.
And then one of your supervisors pulls you aside to say the following:
“You did an excellent job on that presentation. You made it easy for us to agree with your proposal, and we’re looking forward to seeing how things turn out.“
Wow! You’ve just received a super positive compliment after all your hard work!
How do you respond?
You feel a little flustered (a combination of embarrassed and nervous), so you smile, and say, “Thank you.” She nods her head and walks out of the room.
After she leaves, you feel like you could have said a little more to acknowledge her kind words.
Well, I have good news for you: saying thank you is a perfectly acceptable way to respond to a compliment.
However, most native English speakers go a step further when receiving compliments.
In this article, we’ll go through some guidelines and expressions we use to help you become better at receiving and accepting compliments in English.
Guidelines for Receiving and Accepting Compliments
Even native speakers need practice at becoming better at accepting compliments! When someone gives you a compliment, that opens up an opportunity for more conversation.
As I mentioned in the scenario above, when you receive a compliment, you should always say thank you, but a conversation pro will keep the conversation going by using a combination of the following strategies.
- Be appreciative
- Tell them that their opinion matters
- Give credit where it is due – to your hard work or to someone who supported you
- Mention a positive next step
- Recognize people who have supported you
- Take the opportunity to invite more feedback or conversation
1. Be appreciative
If someone takes the time to give you a compliment, you should accept it with an enthusiastic, heart-felt “thank you.”
Here are some other expressions for expressing gratitude when accepting compliments:
- Thanks for noticing!
- I appreciate that.
- That means a lot coming from you.
- Thanks. That really means a lot.
- Thanks for noticing.
- You think so? Thanks so much!
- Aww! Thanks.
- How nice of you to say that.
- How nice of you to notice.
- I’m flattered. (British English)
- That’s nice to hear.
- Thanks. That’s very kind. (more common in British English)
- Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
- I’m happy / glad you think so.
A simple “thank you” is always completely welcome, or you can combine an expression of appreciation with my other guidelines and strategies for accepting compliments.
2. Tell them that their opinion matters
If you know the person giving you a compliment, and you value their feedback because of their own special skills, talents, or sense of style, be sure to emphasize that their opinion is important to you.
You can use a simple phrase like, “That means a lot coming from you.”
3. Give credit where it is due – to your hard work or to a colleague
It is good practice to acknowledge your investment of time and energy into a project or your hard work developing your skills.
You can say, “Thanks a lot! My win is a result of long hours of practice!”
You may also want to recognize people you have worked with on a collaborative project.
Shifting or sharing the credit is a common strategy for receiving compliments, which I describe in further detail below.
4. Mention a positive next step
After receiving a compliment, you can mention what you plan to do going forward.
This works the same for compliments on your appearance, taste, or personality as for compliments on your performance in work, school, and other settings.
Here are some examples:
- If someone compliments your taste in living room furniture, say, “Thanks so much! Now I can focus my attention on beautifying my kitchen!”
- If someone compliments your public speaking skills, say, “I appreciate that. I’m hoping to do as well in the big department meeting next month.”
- If someone compliments your marketing campaign, say, “Wow, thanks! I’m going to apply what I learned with my latest client.”
5. Recognize people who have supported you
If someone gives you a compliment on your talents and skills, you can accept the compliment by recognizing your hard work, but it’s also a good idea to mention the people who have supported you as you’ve grown and worked towards your goals and dreams.
For example, you can say, “Thank you. My family has been incredibly supportive of my dreams.”
6. Take the opportunity to invite more feedback or conversation
The last guideline for receiving compliments is to view it as an opportunity to invite more feedback or more in-depth conversation.
As I mentioned in my lesson on giving compliments, saying something positive can open up more conversation.
If you are receiving a compliment, leave the door open for the other person.
When you receive a compliment on your research project from your advisor, respond by asking them for feedback.
You can say, “I really appreciate that coming from you. Do you have any suggestions for how I can apply my learnings in my next study?”
Let’s revisit the example at the beginning of the article. A senior member of your department gave you a compliment about your proposal. In this case, you can invite them to share more ideas with you.
Try saying, “Thank you. Do you have any suggestions that you’d like me to keep in mind?”
You could also suggest meeting in the future.
If someone compliments your taste in watches, you can start talking more about watches or places to buy them. “Thanks. I got it in New York. Have you ever been to __(name of store)__?”
Similarly, you can return the compliment and engage the person in conversation.
Common Strategies for Receiving Compliments
As I mentioned in my article on giving compliments, the best way to improve someone’s day is to show admiration, approval, or respect with positive feedback.
However, if you spend enough time with native English speakers, you’ll notice that they don’t always immediately accept the compliment.
If someone avoids accepting your compliment, they might have felt awkward because your compliment was out of place.
For example, you definitely shouldn’t tell someone at work or someone you don’t really know that they look beautiful. It’s too personal and generally inappropriate.
However, what happens if it was just a simple compliment about their excellent cooking, or amazing taste in luggage? Why would they avoid accepting the compliment?
Well, that’s just part of the culture around receiving compliments.
Understanding how compliments are received will help you decipher what’s going on!
Avoiding or minimizing the compliment
It’s hard to believe, but it’s actually common in American English to completely avoid or otherwise minimize a compliment one or two times out of modesty.
Avoiding compliments is more common when you are talking about appearance, style, or personal taste because some people may feel embarrassed about having that much attention on them.
People who are shy or more reserved are more likely to avoid or minimize compliments because they feel uncomfortable.
Similarly, younger people who are still developing self-confidence may not believe what you are telling them.
Remember, it’s not a good idea to minimize compliments about your talents, skills, or performance at work or school.
Many business coaches actually have to teach people to accept compliments in the workplace – it’s okay to excel in your work!
Common expressions used to avoid or minimize compliments are the following:
- No, I’m not.
- Not really.
- It was nothing.
- It wasn’t that hard.
Questioning or doubting the compliment
Similar to avoiding or minimizing compliments, some people may question or doubt the compliment they received.
This is slightly better than avoiding compliments, but it is a strategy I rarely suggest using.
It may be more appropriate when someone is complimenting your personality or personal characteristics.
Interestingly, some people question the compliment in order to receive another compliment!
Questioning compliments can encourage the other person to be more specific.
Be careful, though: you don’t want to sound like you are digging or fishing for compliments.
Digging for compliments and fishing for compliments are expressions we use to describe someone who wants to hear people say more nice things about them, and it’s pretty obvious when the person is doing it!
Here are some common expressions for questioning compliments:
- Do you really think so?
- Is that so?
- You really think that?
- Wow, you mean that?
Shifting or sharing the credit
A better strategy for receiving compliments is to shift or share the credit.
Shifting credit enables you to be a little modest or genuinely recognize another person’s hard work.
For example, if someone compliments your physical appearance, like your eyes or hair, it’s okay to say, “Good genes!” 😉
If you receive a compliment on your style or taste, you can reference who you learned from:
- Thanks! I inherited my sense of style from my grandmother.
- I’m glad you noticed. I’ve watched a lot of cool YouTube videos to get it right.
- Wow, thanks! I can recommend this great book on it.
- I appreciate that. My roommate has a good eye for design.
When someone compliments your work, but you know that other people were involved in the process, you use one of the following strategies:
- Thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you / the rest of the team / the support.
- I appreciate that. Sarah and Joe helped a lot. I’ll let them know what you think.
- Thanks so much. I’ll pass along the compliment to Diana. She was really involved throughout the process.
Similarly, if someone compliments your performance or achievement, you can acknowledge the help you’ve received to get there:
- I’m really thankful for all the training / guidance / support I’ve received over the years.
- I’m lucky to have such a great coach.
- I appreciate all the people who have helped me get here.
Returning the compliment
A fourth common strategy when receiving compliments is to return the compliment to the other person.
Returning the compliment means repeating a similar or related compliment to the other person.
For example, if someone says, “I love your hair!” You can respond, “You have great shoes.”
Or if your boss tells you that you did a great job on the project, you can say, “Well, I’m lucky enough to have learned from the best!” which is an indirect way to refer back to him or her.
If someone tells you that you have an excellent attitude, you can compliment their dedication, passion, or energy: “Thanks! I admire your dedication to your work!”
As long as you are genuine, returning the compliment is a good strategy for accepting compliments in an appreciative, but modest way.
Who knew receiving compliments could get so involved? Learning how to properly accept a compliment can help you make better conversation in English.
This also helps you understand common responses to compliments so that you can react appropriately and keep the conversation going.
You’re an excellent student! Show that you learned how to accept compliments by using one of the guidelines in a comment below. 🙂
ps… Don’t forget that you also want to learn how to give compliments well!