Have you ever talked to people who either out of real or shadow interest attended any personal or self-effectiveness workshops or process labs? If you did, you might have come across some of them, who sometimes mildly and condescendingly admonish you that you “don’t know how to take a compliment – why do you shrug it off?”
This might be true in case of some people with history of sever treatment in the childhood. But if you are able to reflexively generate a quick, plastic “Thank you” to all such appreciations, some real ones might go inadequately acknowledged. And, spending more time and energy on some others might serve to continue a dialogue you would rather not.
Upon being admonished that you don’t know how to take a compliment, you might have fallen silent, giving the other person to understand that you are actually considering the ‘problem’. Inside, you might wonder why you came across to the other person as shrugging off the compliment or being uncomfortable at being complimented or being awkward at receiving compliments. Some words and acts of compliments might flash into your memory and you might wonder why at some time, from some people we take the compliment but why not at some other time and why not from all.
There is surely a theory behind it, but it makes good common sense.
Ingratiation, the act of ‘pleasing’ someone comes very close to complimenting – in fact it is a look-alike, with very different nature – and when a receiver is not sure which one it is, it might be difficult to respond to one quickly and smoothly.
Experts compare ingratiation with a fake coin inserted into a slot machine for winning the jackpot or in a dispensing machine for getting a free can from a vending machine. In this form, it is designed to wield power over the other person who owns or controls some resource of value to ingratiator, but rather than putting up appropriate effort, the chosen path is to befuddle the judgment of the other person. Some politics!
What is compliment? It is a sincere appreciation of the quality in the other person, merely as an onlooker or as someone already enriched, and there is essentially no expectation to benefit out of this appreciation.
So, generally, one would expect to have a reasonable tenure of relationship and exchange with a person, familiarity and liking, sharedness of attitudes, values, at least some common levels of proficiency and some reasonable level of trust/trustworthiness – or some basis, which can explain compliments.
If the compliment comes too soon, in a context not very fitting and without history of adequate quality, it is difficult to judge if what was just said by the other person was a compliment or it was a counterfeit – or worse, whether the other person meant anything at all.
If that is not clear, rather than feeling happy and rewarded, the receiver becomes alert, but alertness with no apparent danger might feel ‘wrong’ or appear socially awkward, and after all it might be just a misplaced doubt. So, the receiver might become abruptly silent, not knowing what to say because, it is not clear how best to process what was just said.
In fact, expert ingratiators might capitalize on this state of doubt and indecision of the other person and that smart maneuvering might block a process of realistic inquiry.
During the course of working and being, I receive perhaps both kinds. One does not have to be a Nobel winner or a rocket scientist to be at the receiving end for both – luckily for us, there always someone for whom either we are a resource or worthy of appreciation. I still can’t immediately tell the counterfeit with 100% confidence, but can feel the genuineness of the real ones almost all the times. When I am not sure, I put it on hold and keep it there. Apart from collecting more information, somewhere the intuition does the job, and intuition has been such a good friend through out evolution!!
What is your experience about this?