A recent post on Forever Amber about the things you should never say to someone got me thinking about some of the other things you should never say – especially when you’re trying to give someone a compliment about their appearance.
Here are some things people say that are supposed to be compliments, but which can sometimes just end up having the opposite effect…
01. “YOU’RE SO LUCKY YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH THAT: I’D JUST LOOK LIKE A FAT PIG IN IT!”
Most people don’t want to feel like they’re merely “getting away” with an otherwise awful outfit, but quite apart from that, complimenting someone by putting yourself down is just a bit awkward, isn’t it? There’s not much the person can say to it, after all, other than to frantically try to reassure you that you’re wrong (so congratulations for making it all about YOU, I guess…), and it’s also hard not to think there’s a subtle dig in there somewhere, and that if you think YOU’D look awful in the outfit, you probably think I look awful in it, too.
02. “YOU’RE SO BRAVE!”
Getting dressed in the morning shouldn’t really require “bravery”, so unless the person you’re speaking to is someone who deliberately sets out to shock, what you’ve just implied is that they’re wearing something no one in their right mind would even consider. Not exactly a compliment, is it?
03. “I WOULD NEVER WEAR THAT!”
Obviously everyone has different tastes and opinions, and that’s fine, but this implies judgement, and suggests that the person is doing something “wrong” by wearing something you wouldn’t. Adding, “but you look good in it, though!” doesn’t really help, because it always sounds like an afterthought, and something you’re saying just to soften the blow. If you really want to compliment someone, skip the “I’d never wear it” bit and just go with the, “you look great” part – voila, your compliment is no longer a backhanded one!
04. “I THOUGHT YOU LOOKED BETTER BEFORE”
Normally uttered when someone has changed their appearance in some way, and almost always hurtful: what do you expect them to do – change everything back just to suit you?
05. “ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO WEAR THAT?”
Well, I really was… until you made me feel like I was about to commit some kind of fashion crime, that is. Obviously if you think an outfit is absolutely indecent, or will break the dress code of the place you’re going or something, you should speak up to save the person embarrassment (although there’s got to be a more tactful way to say it, hasn’t there?). If it’s just not your taste, though, all you’re going to do here is make someone feel uncomfortable in something they were previously happy with: just let them wear what they want.
06. “OH, THAT MAKES YOU LOOK SO MUCH BETTER / SLIMMER / YOUNGER!”
This is the kind of compliment that’s usually well-intentioned, but which can easily backfire, because what you’re basically saying is that, until now, the person DIDN’T look slim/young/good/whatever. No one wants to think they looked “old” until they cut their hair, or “fat” until they put on that dress, do they? If you want to say something nice, just tell the person they look good – don’t imply that they didn’t before, or act shocked by it: no one will thank you for that kind of “compliment”.
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The fact is, of course, that while some of these comments can sound a little bit snide or backhanded, the majority of them probably DO come a place of good intention, so while I think it’s always a good idea to think about the things you say, and do your best not to inadvertently hurt someone, it’s ALSO a good idea to try not to take too much offence if you’re on the receiving end of a less-than-complimentary “compliment”.
With that said, can you think of any other “compliments” you’d rather not hear?
Ahahahaha! I LOVE this! Great article 🙂
My ‘compliment’ I’d rather hear/not hear, is when someone asks my age, (I’m in my mid-40’s). Does this really matter? But I’m always pretty open about that, and I tell them. Then the other person does a double-take, and gush about how much younger I look. I admit, this sort of reaction is both pleasing – “really?! You thought I was 10-15 years younger?!” and THEN it becomes a big spoonful of salt to swallow. Because… I can’t tell if someone is overcompensating, because they think I look *EXACTLY* my age (or older). And then I wonder if all of their nice comments have been overstatements, masking their true opinions. Then I’m annoyed at myself that I’ve put this much energy into thinking about it.
Also, I don’t see what’s wrong with being in your mid-40’s. Or 50’s, or 60’s… you get my drift. Better to just avoid the age question altogether.
I’m overthinking this, of course 🙂
YES! I’ve had this too, although in my case the reaction when people ask my age is normally shock and horror, which comes out as, “OMG, REALLY? I would NEVER have guessed!” And then they go on, and on, and on about how they assumed I was younger, which, like you say, is flattering in a way, but the fact that people seem genuinely HORRIFIED (and that’s the only way I can think to describe it) by my actual age is really quite upsetting to me: it’s like they’re telling me I’m “getting away” with some kind of flaw, which they then congratulate me for essentially “concealing”, which is all kinds of messed up, really. I mean, there really isn’t any point in looking younger than you are, if people are going to make such a big deal about, and go on about how they didn’t realise you were SO OLD! Gah.
Because of this, I basically refuse to give my age now, when asked. I know that’s not exactly helping the issue, but I just can’t deal with those kinds of reactions: they make me feel absolutely ancient!
My sister-in-law who is a couple of dress sizes smaller than me and less endowed boobage-wise has often complimented me on looking “womanly”, sometimes with something breast-related thrown in. As you say, this is probably meant kindly, but it just sets my teeth on edge and I feel like retorting “you mean I’m fat, don’t you?”. Great article, by the way!
Complimenting someone is nearly as hard as accepting a compliment (it’s a Brit thing I suspect) and thatight be what makes people turn it into a not quite compliment!
Turning it on its head, what compliments _are_ ok??
I gave some specific examples in the post itself, but basically anything that doesn’t come with a qualification (“You look good… for your age”) or an implied judgement (“I would NEVER…”).
I always say, “You look beautiful!” or “I love your outfit!” or “gorgeous hair!” I tend to give shout-outs on the street 🙂 I agree – there should be no qualification.