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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, dancing and good movies.  

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what do you think about people paying someone else left-handed compliments?

- You know, the first time we met, I really didn't like you that much.
- I didn't like you.
- Yeah you did. You were just so uptight then. You're much softer now.

(She stops and puts both hands on her waist) 
- You know, I hate that kind of remark. It sounds like a compliment, but really it's an insult.
- OK, you're still as hard as nails.
- I just didn't want to sleep with you, and you had to write it off as a character flaw instead of dealing with the possibility that it might have something to do with you.
- What's the statute of limitations on apologies?
- Ten years.
- Ooh. I can just get it in under the wire.
Billy Crystal as Harry Burns
Meg Ryan as Sally Albright
When Harry Met Sally... by Rob Reiner (USA, 1989)

[When Harry Met Sally... 
One of the best comedies of the last 25 years, 
or how one can pay homage to the wonderful classic comedies 
by George Cukor, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder in an original way]

I don't know about you, but I like it when someone pays me a compliment. 
I do like to hear someone telling me that I am smart, intelligent, funny, sensitive, sexy, or professional.
I like to hear that my dress is elegant, that my makeup is perfect, that I did a good job, that I said something interesting, that I am a fantastic friend.
I like to be appreciated. 

When someone tells me something nice, I usually smile and say "Thank you!". And I mean it every single time.
Does this sound like a no-brainer to you?

Well, in my experience some people find such a situation very stressful. 
They don't know how to react, or they are not sure that the compliment is genuine. They are afraid of sarcasm and bad jokes. They feel insecure. 
Those people usually try to minimize the compliment itself, to make it sound less important, less personal, less intimate, somehow less compromising.

[How not to respond to compliments...
do these scenarios look familiar to you?]

While hearing a compliment, they may think that they now have to free themselves from an obligation. Or that someone is just trying to manipulate them. Who would love to be manipulated, after all?

With the time I came to the conclusion that not only paying a compliment but even more accepting a compliment is, unfortunately, a forgotten art. Most people tend to take a lot of things for granted, without understanding that paying a compliment can make someone else's day. That a sincere compliment is a truly beautiful gift and that the recipient will probably never forget it.

Accepting a compliment, on the other hand, means to establish a connection, to build a relationship, to pay attention to how someone else is seeing us. To be vulnerable, in some way.  
And it has, even more, to do with showing self-confidence and self-acceptance.

Not accepting a compliment it's not about being humble, in my opinion. It means to me lack of respect for someone else's point of view and/or taste instead. 
If I tell you that you look great and you reply that this is not true, then you are expressing a doubt about my capacity to give an opinion or even about my feelings.

Even worse than that are to me the so called 'left-handed compliments'. A left-handed compliment is, just like the quote from 'When Harry Met Sally...' above the post explains, the kind of statement that could sound like a compliment, but it means actually something negative or ironic or caustic about the compliment recipient.

A couple of days ago, a woman that I see every six months or so, told me (once again...) something like:
"You are so beautiful, you look great! Every time that I see you, you are even more beautiful than the previous one. Well, you don't have children, so you have for sure plenty of time to take care of your appearance".

Hey lady... I beg your pardon?

[The Queen (Julia Roberts) taking care of her appearance
in Mirror Mirror (2012) by Tarsem Singh] 

Helena Rubinstein was used to saying that "There are no ugly women, only lazy ones", while meaning that beauty has less to do with fate and definitely more to do with time spent on it, sacrifices, perseverance and hard work. 

Yes, taking care of one's appearance costs time. But it is to me something related to self-discipline, esteem for oneself and personal branding. I want to be the best possible version of myself and to show others only this side of me. To walk the line and take care of myself.

Everybody is free to do what one considers the right option for himself/herself in this instance.
But why should one pay someone a left-handed compliment just for the sake of making someone feel bad about himself/herself or of belittling him/her?

I personally consider this negative attitude a perfect litmus paper about someone's real personality.
It says way more about the other person than about how much time I could eventually spend looking in the mirror every day.

What do you think?
Are you good at taking compliments?

Tags: When Harry Met Sally, Quotes, Compliments, Taking compliments, Left-handed compliments, Beauty

Previous posts:
Why do I love so much 'When Harry Met Sally...'?
Quando ha senso chiedere scusa?


  1. I think there's just one reason for this behavior: envy.. and sons have nothing to do with it.. as for me, I usually doubt when people make compliments to me.. But now I've learned to accept them, most of all if I know I deserve them.. and they are a beautiful gift, as you said.

  2. Indeed.

    Most of the times learning to accept compliments takes time, for sure.
    Generally speaking, we are not used to them and we tend to think that people want something from us and they pay us a compliment only for this reason...
    Sad enough, don't you think?

    Over time one realizes that this is not always the case, and that for every self-interested compliment there are five generous ones...
    If one has the right kind of friends.