How to take a compliment

By Wayne EliseThis is the companion piece to my earlier 'How to give a compliment.'

On a cosmic scale, life, organization and purpose are temporary. Culture, architecture, the internet, cars, Sunday-fun-days, language and everything human kind enjoys and has made are temporary exceptions in a Universe intent on running down and spreading out into a thin cloud of radiation.

"Ta-da! I bought you a Vespa!"

"Wow! It has a sidecar and everything!"

"And racing stripes. They won't have Vespas in the future."

"No they won't. Entropy."

"Yeah, dang entropy. Enjoy the Universe of useful clumpy energy and matter while it lasts."

"You know we're here by a quirk of fate, right?"

"Oh yeah, I know. To hell with it. Want to rob a bank?"

"With a Vespa?"

"Makes a stylish getaway vehicle."

"We'll need googles."

One day, many years from now, the only thing left will be neutrons floating in space and a state of uniform, low-level radiation distribution. And nothing will be interesting - forever more. See The Heat Death of the Universe.

Compliments take effort. And that is wonderful because it is in opposition to the nature of the Universe which is nudging us toward apathy and decay.

"You are the best amateur sushi chef in the world."

"Oh, no way. I'm not that good."

"Dude, your rolls are tight."

"Sure. But not the tightest."

"I think they are."

"Have you seen Deb's rolls? Now those are tight."

"They're not bad."

"What? Are you arguing with me now?"

"No. I was just saying I like yours the best."

"Well, I'm not ready to handle that level of appreciation."

"Apparently. Sheesh."

When someone gives you a compliment you may think it insincere. You may think they have ulterior motives. Maybe they do. But as Shakespeare said, "Nobody cares. Because all of life is a stage and to be a charismatic you gotta go with it. Sincerity is just good acting bro."

Think of complimenting as staging Shakespeare at your community theater. There are roles to be cast and lines to be delivered.

If you're lucky enough to be cast as The Complimented, your intention is to wow the audience with your social grace and generosity. The proper response to a compliment is to shift the focus back to The Complimentor's generosity.

"Good deed my friend. With that sacrifice of yours I have made the break towards daylight. In no small measure am I to be made whole again and meet with the restoration of my fortune."

"My fortune was made by your acquaintance sir and by your words. You are forthwith full of courage and vigor to speak such to one of my station."

"I only speak the marrow of my bones. Truth!"

"It t'would be easier to let the moment go unannounced tho my lord."

"Nay, would be harder. Things are turning out right, save for the spear in your side and this crimson puddle at your feet, dear corporal and friend."

"The cost is small. In a fortnight the republic will be yours. I have made a good death of it."

"Good night sir. Sojourn off and I will remember you well."


And the curtain falls on the scene.

I can see the review in the Times now. "Dazzling! Whoever that person was in the role of The Complimented took likability to a new level. What an egoless performance! Too bad the character was killed off in the first act."

When someone gives you a compliment, they are willing to stick their thumb in the Universe's eye. Give them some love. Focus the conversation on their courage and kindness and then use the conversation to PLAY.

Ding Ding!

"Awesome. You're the best bike messenger we have."

"No worries. I'm just doing my job."

"Seriously, most of the bike messengers get the package here ten minute late. You always get it up here early."

"It's my fancy bike."

"I beg to differ. It's the rider."

"No. I'm sorry, it's the bike!"



"Shut up and accept my compliment or I'll take that silly mohawk helmet off your head and throw it out the window!"

"Okay. Fine. Thank you for the nice words! It's kind of you to go out of your way to say them! Now can I have my helmet back?"

"What are your plans for lunch tomorrow?"

"Uh, no plans exactly."

"Good. You can have your helmet back if you take me to lunch."


"Fine! Here, take it."

"Good! Thank you."

"Good bye! By the way, nice buns!"

"Right. Uh… thanks. That's kind of you to say."

"There you go. Good response. I took a photo of them. Hope you don't mind."

"Sorry. Of what?"

"Your buns. I uploaded them to one of those Hot or Not sites."

"I see."

"Sorry. Hope that's alright."

"Well um, how did they do?"

"Your buns? Yeah, they won best buns. CNN wants to interview you."


"No. Not really. April Fools!"

"Ha. Aren't you a day late?"

"You were supposed to come yesterday."

"Something you should know. These aren't my real buns. They're implants."

"Ha. Nice try. I know the real deal when I see them."

"No really. Look."

"Dear god!"

"Ha. Just kidding. That's just my water bottle. See you tomorrow."

Ding Ding.

Let's review. Step 1) Appreciate the effort to make the compliment. Step 2) Use the topic to find a way to play together. Step 3) Come back here and report. :)

How to give a compliment

By Wayne Elise

I'm sure you've tried to deliver a compliment and had it land like a dead fish. We all have.

"You have a scholarly way about yourself."

"What are you on about? Are you calling me a nerd? Are you having a go at me mate?"

"No. No. I was just trying to be nice."

"Well, it's out of order idn't?"

Other times we give a compliment and it creates embarrassment.

"Nice hair."

She looks at the floor. "Uh, thanks."

He stares off into space. "Well uh, I just think it's silky and shiny like a pony."

She walks off.

There's a theory that if someone does not accept a compliment they have low self-esteem. This is poppycock.

"I think you are the most handsome knight at this entire Renaissance Festival."

"My'lady is too kind. I am but a lump of coal compared to Sir Kevin or Sir Teejay. They are like the diamonds atop her majesties crown."

That's just modesty in action. You will also find that people don't like to accept compliments from particular people since doing so creates a sense of obligation.

But none of that really matters. I use compliments in an entirely different way.

I use them to stimulate PLAY.

Remember PLAY. That's that thing we did as kids and we don't do enough of as adults because we're to busy feeling stressed.

That's too bad. I think PLAY is the highest way of being with another person. When we PLAY, we forget our worries and limitations. We enter into a realm of imagination.

Here are my steps to giving compliments:

Step 1, Say what you see.

Step 2, Say how you feel.

Step 3, Say what can happen. Use a couple tools you learned from Conversation Camp here: Action Words and Act Outs.

For example:

I was recently walking down a corridor with Erika when a girl with a hat walked behind us.

"Nice hat. I like it. I wanted to bring my hat but my wife here told me no one would be wearing their hat." I mimed wearing a hat. "You know, you can change everything by just altering the tilt of your brim."

"You mean like this," she said and moved her hat to the side.

"Yeah. It's like you're suddenly way more introspective. Try pulling up the brim. See now you're super fun."

Like I keep saying over and over to everyone who will listen, intention matters. Instead of using compliments to make people feel good about themselves or to flatter, use compliments to give significance and focus to something, an object or idea, that you can use to PLAY together.

Check out my companion piece to this post: How to take a compliment.

Car driving analogy of conversational confidence

By Wayne Elise

Imagine driving a car down a stretch of road. Think about how you steer the car. You probably don't hold the steering wheel in one straight-ahead position and hope for the best. That's not how you drive a car, even on a straight road. Instead, you make a series of counter-steering course corrections.

For example, as you drive, your mind, through your awareness, realizes your car is too far over to the right in your lane. It sends a signal to your muscles and you nudge the steering wheel left.

Course corrected. Much better.

But as it turns out, that course correction may have been too bold. Now the car is moving too far left in your lane. You need to push it a back right.

Okay, that's better.

But you soon realize you should have pushed further. No worries. That's easily corrected. Your hand turns the steering wheel to set an improved course.

But hold on. The road's not straight up ahead. You're now entering a slight left-hand curve. Not a problem. Your mind plots a trajectory and turns the wheel into it.

But that course isn't precisely correct either. You turned too far. Turn back to the right. A bit more. There. Nice job. You're driving like a profess…

Uh oh. There's a pothole ahead. Better steer around it.

Good job. Now get back on track. You need to push to the right. That's too far. Course-correct left.

And on and on.

Every input on the steering wheel fixes an errant course, yet sets an ultimately flawed course itself which will have to be adjusted after a time.

Until Google drives our cars, we have to accept this state of rolling imperfection so as to get us down the road.

Yet we all know drivers who seem to think otherwise. They worry about being perfectly centered in their lane. They make exaggerated, overly-conscious input corrections - the sort that makes their passengers want to throw-up, instead of the smooth, small, subtle, mostly subconscious, input corrections we associate with confident driving.

Conversations, especially with strangers, work in similar ways.

We talk a lot here at Charisma Arts about changing behavior to make you more charismatic. "Say this sentence instead of that sentence. Take action A instead of action B." But it's important to understand that conversations, at their best, are driven by a series of imperfect, pieces of behavior.

To understand this more thoroughly let's examine a conversation between a guy and a girl.

He rubs his chin and looks over at her. "I believe love doesn't exist but is purely a human construction created to justify our desire."

He has shared a bit of his life philosophy. That's a good thing. But the statement, as all statements do, creates unintended consequences.

The girl shakes her head. "That's awful."

"Perhaps it is," he says.

"You won't let yourself fall in love?"

"No. I'll probably fall in love again in the future, though hopefully I'll remember it's nothing more than pleasant-feeling self-delusion."

"That's so wrong."

He shrugs his shoulders.

"You're the darkest boy I've ever met."

Misinterpretations are a foregone conclusion. He doesn't consider himself dark, rather light and fun. But he knows accurate impressions are only achieved over time. He's patient.

He laughs. "I like your hands. You have strong hands for a girl."

"I'm not sure how I should feel about that."

He probably would have used a different wording having it over again. But c'est la vie.

"You should feel good. They're sexy hands. The hands of a creator."

"I do sculpt with them."

"You do? Ahem, I mean, you do. I knew that. That's what I'm talking about."

She smiles. "They are kinda big though for a girl."

"I wonder if I should tell you how I feel."


"Well, sometimes feelings are significant and sometimes their just silly."

"What? Tell me."

"Do you believe people meet for a reason?"

"I do."

"Well, I never feel that way. I'm as rational and agnostic as a boy can be. But with you, right now, I want to believe."

Her eyes grow larger. "That's the most romantic thing I've ever heard."

"Is it? I read it in on the back of a food truck."

"Oh my god."

"I'm kidding." He steps closer, reaches out, takes her hand and leads her out to the patio.


This analogy might seem like a burden - another thing to worry about. But, in practice, you don't have to think about any of this consciously. Just like driving, we don't think too much about our actions - our eyes focus some distance ahead and our subconscious mostly makes the moment by moment decisions for us.

Here are some ways to use this analogy for your benefit:

* Develop the habit of kindness toward yourself. Be tolerant of your mistakes and miscues. They are inevitable and necessary to move your conversations forward. Don't beat yourself up for swerving the car.

* Drop the need for initial 'good' responses. Needing a good response puts you in conflict with the law of romantic comedy which states that good relationships often start with conflict before finding rapport and intimacy.

Reacting badly towards a reaction that you hoped was different will often also scare your conversational partner. They will lose confidence in your ability to drive the interaction.

* Develop your situational awareness. That's your ability to calculate your position relative to your goals using experience and the willingness to read the people you interact with. In certain situations, such as army officers dealing with angry villagers in Afghanistan, playing poker, picking up an attractive person or making the huge sale, your situational awareness can be critically important to judging the overall direction of your interactions.

* Pick the right intentions. Needy people often have short-term, ego-involved intentions. They look for personal approval for every piece of their behavior. That's akin to focusing on the cars and lane dividers flowing past and forgetting to look ahead.

Confident people focus forward, up ahead and don't sweat the bumps and position in their lane to much. Their goals tend to have be more far reaching such as developing trust or having fun, or building sexual desire.

* Be an artist. Remember when you were learning to drive and your mom or dad, or whomever was giving you driving lessons, and they freaked out when you turned the wheel harshly or stepped on the brake abruptly. They encouraged you to drive carefully. They knew your ability to recover was low. They wanted to keep you in bounds of what they perceived were recoverable positions.

But now you have more confidence in your driving abilities. You can swing the car harshly and swerve in your lane (not that I'm recommending you do this of course) and recover.

Just because a conversation is sliding at an awkward angle doesn't necessarily mean its out of control. I bet you've seen those guys who drift their cars sideways. They do incredible things. Sometimes we swerve our conversation as a way of making creative moves in conversation. Often the best path between two points is not a straight line but rather the fun or scenic path. In social situations, efficiency is often not important. We can swerve our conversation so long as we can recover and head towards our goal.

* Act calm and confident. Your conversational partners often don't know your capabilities. They don't know what is positions are recoverable for you. And will often assume you are doing fine so long as you act as if you are doing fine.

Imagine yourself in your conversational partner's shoes. Imagine you're sitting in the passenger seat with a professional rally-car driver. I'm sure you've seen those. They are the guys who drive over wilderness tracks at break-neck speed.

Think about how you'd feel sitting there in the car with the trees and spectators flashing past. Probably scared but not terrified so long as you have confidence in your professional rally car driver.

But since this is an experience that's not on par with normal driving, you can't rely on normal driving clues to judge your safety. Instead, you look to the demeanor of your driver. If he looks concerned, "Oh shit! I shouldn't have done that," you'll become terrified. But if he looks at ease, if he tells jokes and sips a latte while sliding around a corner, you'll feel 'relatively' safe even given this extreme situation.

Conversation in stressful, uncommon situations, or with people we don't know well, can feel foreign to our conversational partners. They can't look for their usual conversational clues to judge the safety of the conversation. In these situations they'll look to your demeanor for how they should feel. If you look concerned with the position of the conversation, they'll become afraid things are heading toward embarrassment and want want to bail out. But if you appear calm and confident, they'll feel safe as you drive the conversation toward a desirable goal.

Thanks for reading, Wayne