Hello, Gorgeous! (The Art of Giving & Receiving Compliments)

March 2024

by rebecca stewart

Oh, my darlings, the joy that can be bundled up in the simplicity of just a few words – spoken or written, it matters not. While giving a compliment might roll right off the tongue, receiving it can be another matter entirely. So averse to praise and compliments, it’s like the person you’re trying to give this verbal gift to is Teflon as it slides right off amidst their deflections. A moment that once seemed primed for warm fuzzies is now sprinkled with awkwardness. Miss Manners does not approve.   

There are a whole host of reasons that one might be a compliment-deflector – they don’t feel worthy, they were raised to prize modesty and humility above all and don’t want to appear vain, they don’t trust the information… Regardless of the why, though worthy of self-reflection, it’s important to open ourselves up to accepting the positive information being imparted to us, just as it’s important for the giver to be genuine when delivering a compliment. 

The truth is, compliments are beneficial to both sides of the equation, sparking joy for the giver and receiver alike, with an added dash of confidence-building for the receiver. As the giver of the compliment, what really matters most is that you mean it. Beyond that, it’s being situationally aware. For example… 

  • Despite the tongue in cheek of our title, here in 2024, we [should] know better than to comment on people’s bodies outside of our closest relationships (and even then, proceed with caution, my friends.). Still, telling your love or your bestie that they are beautiful/handsome hits differently than when Bob from accounting says it. We’ll let the people who know us best - and that we’ve been killing leg day - tell us how strong/amazing our legs are looking.   
  • Absolutely, we can compliment someone’s shoes, their fantastically put-together outfit, or amazing hairstyle, but we are not talking about the things we have no (or limited) control over, a.k.a. the things we are born with, a.k.a. our body’s physical features. It can come off as creepy or inappropriate, well-intended though you might be. Speaking of those 40 pounds you lost…Honestly, sometimes it’s just weird and uncomfortable how hung-up people {i.e., casual acquaintances} get on someone else’s weight. Essentially, you need to know your audience.    
  • Back at work, if you’re extending a more specific compliment, let’s dig deeper than the superficial and get specific in your accolades. “I really admire the way you handled that conflict; you are the epitome of calm and collected.”    
  • In our closest relationships, we know what words we can deliver or behaviors to acknowledge that will have the greatest impact; don’t be shy. See the good, speak the good.  
  • The same goes for when we’re speaking the good words to our kids; go beyond their looks or generic comments on their intelligence, and acknowledge and praise the tangible.     

Okay, we’ve talked about giving the compliments; now it’s time, deflectors and rejectors, to talk about accepting the compliments. It’s important, it really is.   

You probably don’t want to hear this, but where you’re seeing yourself as being humble in your deflections, the compliment giver is seeing/hearing …buckle up… rude. I’m so sorry, but it had to be said. Here they are, trying to tell you this lovely and wonderful thing about you, and you’re basically saying, “What? Absolutely not. Liar!” You think I’m exaggerating, and we know that’s not what you meant, but let’s explore our options.  

  • When all else fails, “Thank you.” Period, the end. No more, no less, two words.  

Too brief?  

  • “Oh, thank you, I appreciate you saying that!”  

Dig deeper.  

  • In our work example above, you might respond: “Oh wow, really? I didn’t feel calm and collected at all! I’m so glad that’s how I came across. Thank you for sharing that.” It’s also totally acceptable to ask for more information if a client or friend says something extraordinary, like, “Your advice totally changed my life!”  

The reciprocal response.  

  • They said: “Your dress is the cutest!” You reply: “Oh my gosh, thank you! It has pockets!” [Promptly shows off said pockets. Joy abounds!]  

It’s as easy – and as complicated – as all that. In the past, we’ve talked about the value of loving your neighbor as yourself, but first, you have to actually…love yourself; this is that. In order to accept these words of grace and love and positivity, we have to believe ourselves worthy of them. And you are. Truly, you are, even as we are all active works in progress.   


Everything we’ve talked about so far has been highly personalized, but all around our community, there are businesses, schools, organizations, and individuals taking broader strokes on this concept of giving compliments and spreading joy in an effort to be the change they wish to see. Here are just a few we’ve encountered:   

United Way of Yellowstone County’s Kindness Rock Garden– Already known for its good works in the community, UWYC launched its Kindness Rock Garden in 2022 as a gift to the community. You’re invited to “Take one for inspiration, share one for motivation, or leave one to help our garden grow!” You can see it for yourself (or drop an addition) in front of United Way at 2173 Overland Avenue.  

Guerilla Optimism– Is the brainchild of Rebecca Langman, Interior Designer, Owner | Revision Custom Home Design. It initially started on a small scale at a former job of Rebecca’s, when she noticed negative attitudes gaining traction. Determined to change those attitudes, “whether they wanted me to nor not,” she started creating smile cards to anonymously hang on the walls. Recognizing the value, she recalls that management placed notes alongside hers saying, “Don’t remove this.” Eventually her efforts evolved into a community-wide positivity effort, which needed a name. Along the way, she considered, “Passive-Aggressive Optimism,” but felt that Guerilla Optimism was more fitting. Rebecca adds that, “I personally feel that those of us with a natural optimism have a responsibility to share that with others.” In fact, she says, her husband calls her “an exploding jar of glitter.” 

You can find Rebecca’s downloadable, free, printable smile cards at https://www.rchomedesign.com/guerilla-optimism. Join Rebecca in leaving “smiles” around town for others to find (one Simply Local team member had an “in the wild” sighting at the YMCA!). These cards are “all about spreading positivity, banishing negativity, and helping people change their mindset.” Never underestimate the power of positive words!  

Optimist Clubs– I mean, it’s in the name! Dedicated to bringing out the best in kids, each club has the unique flexibility to see a need for the youth in their community and fill it. The Optimist Creed is a key tenet giving “volunteers a focus for personal improvement as they work to better the world around them,” Learn more about how you can get involved with your local Optimist Club: https://billingsoptimist.org/about-us/membership/. (And when you get a moment, do yourself a favor and look up the Optimist Creed.)  

Billings ROCKS - Facebook– Yes, folks are still painting and hiding rocks around our beautiful city for people to find. When you find such a rock, snap a pic and share it to the Billings ROCKS Facebook page (and when hiding a rock, the back of it should say something to that effect). Whether you’ve painted words or encouragement or a cute picture, it, once again, is bringing joy to both the giver and the receiver.    

Boulder Brags– At Boulder Elementary School, they’ve taken the concept of the Tootle with the PAX program that other schools are using and made it their own with these Boulder Brags. Essentially, says Boulder Elementary principal Clay Herron, “It’s a cool little complimentary certificate that the kids can fill out. They can give it to other kids, they can give it to teachers, teachers can give them to the kids; it’s just a neat little thing.” The peer-to-peer aspect of these kinds of programs are especially impactful, as they place an emphasis on looking for the good in each other and acknowledging that – an important tool to have in their life skills toolbox.  

Originally printed in the March 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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