Why A Compliment is Virtually Meaningless To Me—But Thanks Goes A Long Way

After five decades of life, I have come to view a compliment as virtually meaningless.


1) I served twenty-nine years as an arts/music pastor during what well could be described as one of the most turbulent periods of change in worship methodology in church history. With increased life spans leading to the unprecedented phenomenon of multi-generational parishes, a senior adult who rode a horse and buggy to church and watched Charlie Chaplin in silent movies would sit in the same worship service with teenagers who have never known a world without the space shuttle and MTV.

Talk about a tough job.

The same people who would compliment endlessly about a patriotic service with “secular” songs such as The Star Spangled Banner would—in the span of one short week—demand my resignation after a “secular” rock song from the teenagers generation.

I soon realized that in order to survive, I should take compliments from parishioners and people at large (of all ages) with a grain of salt.

2) As a creative empathic, compliments have always been confusing to me. Here is a partial definition of an empath to illustrate: Empaths are so extremely sensitive that they will often feel what is happening to other people more so than they will feel it if it were happening to them. Because of this they will ignore their own needs. They will often find it hard to process when someone thanks them or gives them a compliment. They don’t understand gratitude because they don’t understand any other way of thinking and they are much more likely to pay someone else a compliment than to take one themselves.

3) My legalistic religious upbringing taught me to always deflect compliments to God. You know, I was trained when people would say something meaningful, that in order to protect myself from growing proud, I should say something like, “To God be the glory”, “All praise to him”, or simply point my finger skyward while humbly shaking my head no. All sorts of psychological ramifications come with this baggage.

So , maybe that’s why I love a simple “thank you.”

No matter via e-mail, voice mail, text, Twitter, snail mail or a good ole’ verbal muchas gracias—all seem to ring my bell at just the right timbre.

I can live on a thank you for days.

I try to remember this simple truth regularly, thank you’s don’t cost me a dime, but provide priceless benefits for others.

What about you?

Everyone is different.

A compliment or a thank you?

Which do you prefer?

40 Responses to “Why A Compliment is Virtually Meaningless To Me—But Thanks Goes A Long Way”

  1. Depends. I prefer to know that a person means it, whether they are thanking me or complimenting me. A quick “Thanks!” or “Great presentation!” doesn’t really hit home. But “I really appreciated that you took the time to run that errand for me” or “I really thought you made the topic of your talk accessible without dumbing it down” means the world to me because it shows that the person really noticed what was going on and liked it as opposed to just a knee jerk response because it is polite to say something.

  2. Wow…I saw the title of your post and my first thought was “I need to read that because I love to give compliments to others in a way to uplift and encourage them in ways I’ve rarely received in my life.” When I see someone being creative and inspiring, I do thank them but also encourage them because I know what it feels like to not have someone there encouraging you.

    Then I read this post…the second point is me. I’ve never thought about a “tag” to put on it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate encouragement when I get it but it’s hard for me to work through it. Giving encouragement to other creatives is so much easier. Plus, having struggled with pride, deflecting to God is something I do to keep myself in check.

    I’d say “great post” but since you’ve given us a better way to communicate with you, I’ll say “thank you” for this post.

  3. I had a friend who served as worship leader at my church. This is situational, but he often responded with, “I’m sorry.” Often he would get affirmation through a phrase like, “I really enjoyed your worship today.” He just didn’t know any other way to accept a statement that focused something meant for God on him. So he word apologize and explain that he must have gotten in the way of them experiencing God and worshipping him. It wouldn’t always work, but I loved it for the situation.

  4. Now that you mention it, this is easy to answer. THANK YOU any day. Compliments are too easily interpreted as flattery or manipulation of some sort, of which I am very wary. Plus, when someone compliments me I’m supposed to say thank you–whether I believe what they said was true and sincere or not. That feels awkward and disingenuous. If I do believe a compliment and think it’s sincere there is often a corresponding feeling of self-consciousness which is also uncomfortable and tends to shut me down. If I just did something good, shouldn’t I feel good? If someone says thank you then I’m in the very comfortable and genuine place of getting to say you’re welcome.

    That was fun to think about. Thank you. :)

  5. I’d never stopped to think about this until reading your post. I do enjoy getting compliments, but in my short 7-year experience in music ministry, I’ve come to realize that a “Thank you for what you do,” really does go a longer way than “Wow, you can really sing!” and it doesn’t swell up your ego nearly as much. As for the other way around, I prefer thanking people rather than giving them compliments, just because I really don’t like dishing them out. Some of my friends get annoyed because I never say anything, but that’s just the way I am.

    I love that your posts are so thought-provoking and I’ve put a link to your blog on mine. Keep ’em coming!

  6. I have always had a hard time accepting compliments, regardless of why they were given. Thank you definitely goes a long way. And the little bit of effort that is put into a written thank you note can speak volumes too. Sadly I think this is becoming a lost art.

  7. my love language is “Words of Affirmation” and thank you is affirming to me. i have to fight hard against pride, so compliments are tricky. i’ve learned just to say thank you when people compliment me and make sure they know that worship on a Sunday morning is a team effort. my pastor is wonderful about telling me how much he appreciates what i do and writes me cards and notes telling me so.

    oh, and Randy…..THANK YOU!!!

  8. I will take any encouragement I get. Sincere compliments… Being em on! Thanks…… Even better! Evidence of changed lives….. Now that’s the gas that fuels my engine!

  9. I think I do prefer a ‘thank you’. For one thing, it conveys that the work I’m doing is effective, and I love knowing that. That said, I do find it very gratifying personally if someone notices and compliments the intentionality behind the work I do. That doesn’t happen very often, though. :)

  10. I’ve always been a sucker for, “Dude, that rocked!” Which is both a compliment and a ‘thank you,’

  11. I think influence is the greatest thank you. Rather than getting a compliment or a thank you (which is always nice), nothing charges my jets like watching someone take something I’ve recommended/attempted and doing something amazing with it.

    I guess that’s what fuels you to “influence influencers.” There’s nothing like it!

  12. Jimmy Williams January 31, 2011 at 21:55

    #2 hits home! I have looked for some way to express that for so long…(thank you)


  13. I get a lot of compliments, but when someone who I admire says “appreciate you” or “thank you” it means a lot.

    Thanks for blogging. I’m really enjoying your posts.

  14. I reread your blog today…… and wondered if the secret to survival might also be to take unwarranted criticism with a grain of salt. Funny how quickly I can forget all the good things said about me and hang on to that one negative comment for weeks. Maybe I’m the only one that does it.

  15. I’ve dealt with #3 a lot, especially when I was involved in music ministry. I eventually just started saying, “thank you,” as the trite phrases “to God be the glory” were (for me) often just an attempt to appear holy. I’ve heard many performers say, “The humblest response to a compliment is often a simple thank-you.” I’m inclined to agree.

  16. You’re EXACTLY right. In the past, I always tried to deflect compliments and praise. Like you, I have since learned that it’s much better all the way around to say a simple and genuine “Thank you”. Thanks for the great post, Randy.

  17. First of all, thank you for this post. Loving your blog!

    I enjoy both compliments and thank you’s. I didn’t always enjoy compliments, because I didn’t have the confidence to receive them. God has changed that in me. But, it’s nice to hear a thank you sometimes as well.

    Both, however, can be overused, like the words “I Love You”. Sometimes people say them just to be saying them.

  18. Randy,
    Thanks so much for this post. I related to it so much, it felt you were talking to me. As a worship leader, I know all too well how fickle people can be. I also struggle with the conditioned response I am “supposed” to give when complimented. I don’t get thank yous very often, but when I do, man does it boost my whole week!
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share with you in this struggle.


  19. Randy… something i always notice about you is how you always make a point to say thank you. even when i leave your house after a fun night of conversation. You always end with a heart-felt thank you. not for anything specific at times… just to say thanks for the time. I’m learning a big lesson in that.


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