Q. I finally understand where I learned to deflect compliments when my Mother shot down one I recently gave her. She has done that her whole life and certainly never gave me any compliments or affirmation. What would prompt such behavior?

A. Many of the older generation are just doing as they were done to, passing on what they learned, replicating and repeating the dysfunction. Some seem to fear that if they give a compliment, the individual might develop an overinflated sense of self-worth. Not likely when affirmation is specific, appreciative, and genuine! That type of behavior does nothing to teach their offspring how to look for the good in a gesture, performance, or presentation; nothing to help them learn how to offer and receive compliments. No doubt you’ve heard scores of such comments. For example:

Comment: “I like your outfit.” Response: “What, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages—just grabbed it from the back of my closet.”

Comment: “You did a great job. I really enjoyed your presentation!” Response: “Are you kidding? I hardly had any time to prepare. I don’t think it was very good.

When you deflect or deny appreciative comments, it reflects negatively on the person who appreciated something and in effect puts them down. It's as if you're saying, “You sure don't have any taste. Imagine thinking I did something well and then taking your time to tell me! Whatever you do, avoid ever complimenting me again because you certainly lack both discriminative and evaluative skills.”

Stop it. Learn to give and accept compliments graciously. Have some preplanned phrases you can use by way of response. Here are a few to give you some ideas:

  • I appreciate knowing you enjoyed that.
  • Thank you for taking time to tell me.
  • I’m so glad – the information has changed my life.