Receiving a compliment

Many people squirm in their seats when someone's compliment catches them off guard.

A study of more than 400 people showed that 70% associated receiving a compliment with feelings of embarrassment or discomfort.




We most often feel uncomfortable if compliments catch us by surprise. When we're surprised, we move through the following sequence:

  • Stage 1: We momentarily freeze. Rising dopamine levels may cause the heart to start racing and palms sweating. This intense emotional experience can feel uncomfortable.
  • Stage 2: We find an explanation for what is happening.
  • Stage 3: We shift the new information so that it fits our existing schema about ourselves. This means we may try to deflect the compliment or shut it down.
  • Stage 4: We share our experience.
  • When you receive a compliment from someone, understand that it is **their** experience of the situation, not yours. Simply accept their perspective. Start by saying "thank you."
  • Reframe your experience. Think of your vulnerability not as a weakness but as openness. See it as an opportunity to connect with someone else. "Wow, that is such a different perspective."

Nobody is able to change their first response to compliments overnight. It takes time and practice.

Learning to take a compliment well starts with self-awareness.

Get curious about your learned behaviours and how they impact your response to a compliment.

  • In your culture or faith, were you taught just to say thank you, praise God, or divert the compliment with your head down?
  • How abundant or scarce was praise in your childhood?
  • Did your family have unspoken rules around praise?
  • Did you hear statements like" It's not that big a deal" or "Don't let it get to your head?"
Experiencing phone anxiety

Phone anxiety - or telephobia - is the fear and avoidance of phone conversations.

It is more than just disliking a phone. You may feel extremely nervous or anxious before, during and after the call. You may obsess or worry about what you will say. Physical symptoms include nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, and muscular tension.

Phone calls only focus on our voice. Other social cues are absent, making talking on the phone daunting.

  • Anxious people may prefer texting, seeing it as a superior medium of expressive and intimate contact.
  • Texting can give people a chance to think about their words but can potentially encourage the development of a different personality to their real-life self.
  • Phone calls may also feel overwhelming because we feel the pressure of being someone else's sole focus.

The best way to overcome phone anxiety is to make more phone calls.

  • Start by making a list of the people you need to speak to on the phone, like friends or colleagues.
  • Consider what makes you anxious, for example, making a mistake.
  • When the call is over, acknowledge your success.

If you've tried to overcome your phone anxiety or need professional help, counselling might be a great option. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is another effective treatment.

Videos that go viral

We are more likely to share a video or an article that creates a very strong positive or negative emotion in us.

These emotions could be: excitement, happiness and even anger.

Feeling inspired motivates us to better ourselves. It energizes us and pushes us beyond pursuing self-interest to helping others.

  • There is a set of environmental elicitors that we associate with inspiration. These include beautiful nature, art, vastness, religious traditions, gifts, and kindness.
  • We also feel inspired when we see other people express appreciation for beauty, acting thankful, showing exceptional skills, encouragement, perseverance, and overcoming setbacks.
  • YouTube videos that contained elicitors of hope were more likely to be viewed.
  • On Facebook, depictions of nature, vastness, art, and gratitude in the form of thankfulness, predicted how many likes it received. The more inspiring elicitors from any category, the more likely it is to go viral.
  • Articles that were longer and contained more inspirational words (e.g., awe, inspiring, profound, appreciate) were more likely to be viral.
  • Inspiring movies and TV shows that contained hope were the most liked. The most frequent environmental elicitors involved nature and vastness.
  • Over all of the media, the most liked content portrays nature, encouragement, and overcoming obstacles (hope portrayals).
Avoiding sensitive questions comes at a cost

Asking sensitive questions can help build stronger relationships. However, we should know how to seek useful information while minimising the discomfort we feel.

We often avoid asking questions that feel too sensitive or personal. But, when negotiating a salary or finding a place to stay, knowing how much a coworker earns or how much a friend pays in rent can be very useful.

  • Rather than directly asking a delicate question, take the time to explain why you're asking and how you plan to use the information.
  • Find an appropriate, private environment for a one-on-one conversation.

Research points out that people avoid asking sensitive questions out of fear that they would offend the other party. But when they finally did ask sensitive questions, most people were far less offended than expected.

Moreover, asking personal questions also triggered meaningful conversations that fostered stronger relationships.

Taking offense

Most of us have felt offended at a remark. However, we have probably also experienced the shock of finding out that others were offended by our comments, even if we had no intention of hurting them.

We take offense at explicitly rude language directed at us. We also take offense at what was meant or implied by a comment.

Our expectations are mostly formed in the context of our relationships with others. When they are breached, we tend to feel offended.

  1. Foreseeability expectations. They drive us to expect others to predict the potentially negative impact of their words and actions: "I did not expect to hear this from my friend."
  2. Reciprocity expectations. They are based on hoping that our favours or kindness are returned in kind.
  3. Equity expectations. They are about our desire to be treated fairly and equally.

We often take offense outside our personal relationships—for example, a comment on Facebook that ridicules or questions something we find important or of value.

We use our values and beliefs to make judgements. Our belief in specific values may be an important part of our identity and explains why we take offense when those values are not respected.

If you are not sure if you will cause offense, try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are talking to. Ask yourself if you are saying what they would realistically expect you to say and if you are treating them fairly.

If you feel you take offense too quickly, consider what the offending person may not know about you. Rather than being angry about a comment, remember that they may have a different experience and worldview.

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