Talia Levy

November 22, 2023

stop reciprocating compliments

Reciprocating compliments seems like the nice thing to do. And while it’s usually done with positive intent, it's sometimes much better to avoid.

We naturally want to reciprocate compliments, just as we do gifts and smiles. We’re psychologically inclined to do so. But the problem with reciprocating compliments is that it can sound fake.

Compliments should come from the heart. They should be things you actually believe about a person. Feeling like you have to return a compliment can lead to forced statements. But also, even if you mean what you say, it can still sound fake. It can sound like you’re just trying to reciprocate.

So how do you return words of kindness?

You don’t.

I’m kidding — but just don’t do it right away. Say thank you, let time pass, and then compliment them. By doing so, you allow your compliment to stand on its own, just as you let theirs stand on its own.

Compliments should feel brand-new, not forced due to reciprocation. I’ll explain why this is the best-case scenario in a second, but let’s first say you really want to reciprocate in the moment.

In that instance, the second best-case scenario is to give a specific compliment. Being specific is a good rule of thumb in general, but it’s especially important when reciprocating. Like I said, it has to feel like a brand-new compliment, not one that just follows theirs.

So if someone says “you look pretty,” don’t say “you too”. You could said “thank you, I love your hair tonight”.

Sometimes “you too” could work depending on the situation, but it’s generally better to go specific. And specific compliments have the same strengths as specific sorry’s and thank you’s, which I wrote about here.

You really do have to land it though, because even while being specific, it can sound like you’re forcing yourself to think of what to say in return. No one wants a forced compliment, and now they also feel second-hand embarrassment at watching you try to come up with something to say.

Again, if landed right and in the right situations, a reciprocated compliment can be beautiful. But in other situations, the best-case scenario I presented earlier may have a much better effect.

And that is to let time pass after their compliment before you return one. Don’t be afraid to say thank you and leave it at that. If the person complimented you for the right reasons, they’re not expecting anything in return. They just wanted you to hear what they thought of you.

The best things you can do for them in that moment are to show your gratitude for their words and to sit in that feeling. That way, both parties feel good knowing a beautiful message was sent and received, and it wasn’t forced out by a new compliment.

And if you still want to return one, wait and then do it later. Make every one of your compliments feel brand-new.

About Talia Levy

i write about relationships, self-help, & other random reflections i have. new posts every sunday.