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I don’t know how to respond to colleague’s compliments

The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 40s. An older female colleague who I have a good relationship with often compliments me on what I wear. I’m at a loss as to how to respond.

She says such things as: “I really like your skirt today. You look good in any clothes as you’re slender. I’m envious of you. I’m so fat and find very few clothes that fit me.” It’s true she is overweight, so every time I’m given such comments, I have no idea what to tell her in response, because I don’t want to offend her by saying something thoughtless.

I probably sound strange if I say, “No you’re not,” as she is undoubtedly overweight. If I say, “Yeah, exactly,” she may be hurt as she might actually regard herself as plump. If I just chuckle to escape the topic, I may sound like I’m agreeing with what she says. It’s a little awkward if I say nothing in response.

As a result, I always end up mumbling “uh” or “well,” while feeling a little uncomfortable. Recently, I haven’t even felt like wearing my favorite skirts.

How can I respond better?

K, Okayama Prefecture

Dear Ms. K:

First of all, I’m moved you are so kind and thoughtful of your older colleague. I feel that it would be hard for the nice relationship between you to deteriorate, even if there were some inappropriate choices of words.

If there’s something you can do, I suggest you don’t respond immediately to what she says about her own appearance. In other words, you should focus on thanking her for her compliments. You can say such things as, “Hearing your kind words, I can feel confident about myself. Thank you.”

And here is the key part. When she wears nice clothes that she has apparently chosen with some care, you should quickly take notice and say to her, “That’s very nice!” from the bottom of your heart. You should, of course, avoid saying something about her shape, such as “You look slim [in those clothes].” You should just say, “The color is very beautiful. You have very good fashion sense.”

It should not sound like a forced compliment. You should give your honest opinion in a casual way. If you display a little wit like this, your relationship with her can remain strong for a very long time.

Soichiro Nomura, psychiatrist

(from July 14, 2017, issue)Speech

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