The best answer to a compliment is sometimes, “I know.”
Compliments and praise cause a shift in power between two people. “I know” takes it back.
My daughter often gets remarks about her eyes from adults she doesn’t know. These compliments force her to have to interact with people she would not naturally even notice. The polite thing is to say “thank you”, which she does. The adult just saw a pretty child, wanted to interact, and did in a way that he or she thought would make my daughter happy. It doesn’t make her happy. It interrupts her. It forces her to acknowledge that a stranger has judged her and finds her face attractive. It forces her to shift attention from whatever she was doing to this person who has commented on her appearance.
I would love to hear her say, “I know.” And walk away.
Praise can be a way of asserting power. It is passing judgment, after all. Praise says, “I see you, and I have the power to approve or disapprove. I choose to approve this time.”
“I know,” says, “I see myself and I approve of myself.” It takes the power back.
I think it’s always inappropriate to remark on a stranger’s or near-stranger’s looks, even to pay a compliment. It’s an imposition. An attention-grab. An assertion of power.
“I know” is a show-stopper. “I know” says “uh-uh”.
Advice to myself: Be thoughtful about my positive feedback towards others, especially the young people in my care. Strive for authenticity and integrity in all interactions.
Something else: Encourage my daughter to express her authentic feelings. Consider extending myself the same courtesy.
Make a list of the most frequent compliments you receive from people, strangers and otherwise. What do you feel about getting compliments, and praise? Do your feelings depend on the source, or other factors?
List the things about yourself that make you feel the proudest. What do you deeply know are your best qualities/skills/traits?
Focus a reflection on skills and accomplishments that you had to work to achieve. What is your relationship with these aspects of your life? Do you ever feel satisfied with what you have done or are you always striving to improve? What role does the praise of others take in your accomplishments in these areas?