Responding to Compliments: 2 Wrong Ways and 1 Right Way

“You’re an amazing musician!  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone play harmonica like that before.  You have such a bluesy sound, and you make that thing sing!”

bushman harmonica.jpg

I often hear comments like this.  For five years, I performed with various internationally touring Cru music ministry bands and currently play professionally in a Christian bluegrass band and with various other musicians.  

How should I respond to such compliments?

Wrong Way #1 – Pay too much attention to them and start believing my own press clippings.  That’s a dangerous path towards inappropriate, destructive pride.

Wrong Way #2 – Dismiss the compliment in an attempt to show humility.  

Years ago, I heard a Christian psychologist confess that he used to employ Wrong Way #2 when people would thank him for his wonderful public talks.  “Oh no.  That wasn’t me.  It was all Jesus,” he would say.  In hindsight, he wished just one person would have called him out.  “Wait a minute!  Were my eyes and ears deceiving me?  Didn’t I see you behind that podium?  Wasn’t that your voice I heard?  I don’t know what Jesus sounded like, but the voice I heard sure seemed like yours.”

Of course, this well-meaning speaker was trying to avoid Mistake #1 and but overcorrected by communicating– rather ineptly – that he recognized God is the one who made it possible for him to succeed.  

And he’s right.  Ultimately, God is the one who blessed me with my natural abilities and gave me the discipline to put in the time required to achieve competence.  However, I do deserve some credit too.  If it truly is “all Jesus” and I don’t spend the hours required to hone my skill, the performance will be a mess.  I’m not sure Jesus wants to be blamed for my lack of preparation.

A Right Way to Respond – Now when I am complimented for my playing, I sincerely thank my conversation partner, saying I’m glad they enjoyed the music.  Sometimes I mention how blessed I feel that God gifted me in this way.  I might also briefly comment on one of the songs we played or mention how much I enjoy playing with such great fellow musicians. 

And then – and here is the key – after “basking” in their compliment for maybe 30 – 60 seconds, I ask if they play any instruments.  The typical response is something like, “Well, I used to play trumpet in high school,” or “I play a little guitar.”  If it’s the former, I ask if they ever get to play now.  If it’s the latter, I ask what style they like.  Either response usually starts an enjoyable conversation.  

My approach accomplishes two things:

·         It affirms the person’s compliment.  Instead of rebuffing them by essentially denying the validity of their comment, I receive it and graciously thank them.

·         It gets the attention off me and on to them

This practice can be adapted whether you’re an athlete, speaker, or faithful servant quietly going about your tasks.  Try it out!