When my book hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list a few weeks ago an acquaintance called to say, "Congratulations on hitting the bestseller list. I'll keep my fingers crossed your next book hits the New York Times bestseller list."
I said, "Thank you," but at the same time, I was wondering was that really a compliment? As an 'accidental author' who never intended to write a book, I was overjoyed my book got published. The fact that it hit several major bestseller lists was icing on the cake.
But my acquaintance had simultaneously acknowledged the accomplishment and insinuated it wasn't good enough. While this wasn't exactly an offensive comment, it got me thinking about how often people mix praise and criticism in the same sentence.
Clearly, some backhanded compliments are mean-spirited, while others are said out of ignorance. Sometimes, it's helpful to consider the person's intentions before choosing your response.
Here are five helpful ways to respond to backhanded compliments:
1. Ignore it.
Staying silent doesn't mean you're letting yourself get pushed around. In fact, saying nothing at all can be one of the best ways to avoid giving away your power. It sends a message that says, "I don't value your opinion enough to justify it with a response. Silence also avoids an argument.
When to use it: It's a good tactic to use when you know someone is likely trying to get your attention. If your child says, "Thanks for taking me to the park today. It's about time you took me to do something fun," don't take the bait.
2. Say, "Thank you."
There's no need to justify your choices when someone hurls an insult, especially if your response isn't likely to help. So rather than get into a debate about why the comment is hurtful, a simple thank you can be the best way to move forward.
When to use it: The 'thank you' approach is especially effective when people give a backhanded compliment out of ignorance. When Grandma says, "I'm glad you got a job in real estate. That computer stuff you were doing from home wasn't a real job anyway," a simple, "Thank you," could be the best way to move forward.
3. Acknowledge the positive portion.
Feedback and criticism can be essential to improving your performance, but sugarcoating an insult with a compliment usually isn't constructive. Acknowledge the positive portion of a backhanded compliment to show that passive-aggressive communication isn't effective.
When to use it: When your boss says, "You were so productive today! It's too bad you didn't do this last week when I could have used your help even more," respond by saying, "Thank you for noticing my hard work today."
4. Address the insult head-on.
Backhanded compliments can damage relationships. So sometimes, it's best to address the issue in a direct manner. Otherwise, the snarky comments might continue and the relationship could deteriorate. When you don't want a hurtful comment to get in the way of your relationship, speak up.
When to use it: If your friend says, "Those pants look great on you. They hide your belly nicely," respond by saying, "I'm glad you like these pants, but the comment about my belly is hurtful." If you are too stunned to speak up right away when you receive a backhanded compliment, you can always address the issue at a later time.
5. Keep your sense of humor.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do, is not take yourself--or someone's backhanded compliments--too seriously. The person who offers them may not know how to deal with their emotions or they may be trying to hurt you on purpose. Respond with a little humor, without getting snide.
When to use it: A co-worker who says, "Congratulations on that promotion. Perhaps you won't be so irritable all the time in your new position," is probably envious of your success. A good response might be to say, "Yikes! Sounds like you'll be happy to see me go."