How to Respond to Backhanded Compliments

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Backhanded comments and compliments are a form of passive-aggressive communication where a statement appears to be a compliment or positive remark on the surface but contains underlying criticism or negativity. They can be subtle or overt, often leaving the recipient feeling insulted or belittled despite the seemingly positive tone.

Examples of backhanded compliments

  1. “Wow, you actually managed to finish the project on time. I’m impressed, considering your usual track record.”
  2. “You look so much better today! Did you finally start taking care of yourself?”
  3. “It’s great that you’re trying a new hairstyle. Anything to distract from your usual look.”
  4. “You’re really good at speaking up in meetings, even if some of your ideas are a bit out there.”
  5. “Your presentation was interesting, although I’m not sure everyone understood what you were trying to say.”

These comments often disguise criticism or insults within seemingly positive or complimentary language, making them more insidious and hurtful.

How to react and respond do backhanded compliments

Reacting to backhanded comments can be challenging, but it’s important to respond assertively while maintaining professionalism. Here are some strategies you can consider:

  1. Address the Behavior Directly: Politely call out the backhanded nature of the comment. For example, you could say, “I’m not sure if you intended it this way, but your comment came across as a bit backhanded.”
  2. Seek Clarification: Ask for clarification in a non-confrontational manner. For instance, “Could you please elaborate on what you meant by that?” This can give the person an opportunity to reconsider their words or explain themselves.
  3. Stay Calm and Confident: Maintain your composure and confidence. Avoid getting defensive or emotional, as this could escalate the situation. Responding calmly can help disarm the negativity of the comment.
  4. Reframe the Conversation: Redirect the conversation in a positive direction by focusing on constructive feedback or discussing the topic at hand. This can shift the focus away from the backhanded comment.
  5. Set Boundaries: Assert your boundaries by letting the person know that you prefer direct and constructive communication. You could say something like, “I appreciate feedback, but I prefer it to be straightforward and constructive.”
  6. Ignore It: Sometimes, the best response is no response at all. If the comment is relatively minor or not worth engaging with, you can choose to ignore it and move on.
  7. Address Privately: If the backhanded comments persist and are causing discomfort or affecting your work, consider addressing the issue privately with the individual. Explain how their comments make you feel and try to find a resolution together.

Remember that how you respond ultimately depends on the context, your relationship with the person making the comment, and your comfort level. Prioritize maintaining professionalism and self-respect in any response you choose.

How to react in practice?

You can serve them their own medicine, although that can lead to escalation, not resolvance of the issue.

  1. “Wow, I didn’t know you had it in you to give a compliment. Good for you.”
  2. “Thank you, I always try to outdo your expectations.”
  3. “Thanks for noticing, it’s not often that you’re observant.”
  4. “Ha-ha, wasn’t expecting that from you but thank you!”
  5. “You usually don’t notice anything, but thank you.”
  6. “That’s as close as we’re getting to a real compliment from you – so I’ll take it!”
  7. “Oh, now that’s original coming from you! Thanks.”

You can act naive:

  1. “I appreciate your kind words, I believe in improving myself every day.”
  2. “Well, that’s certainly one way to put it! Thanks for noticing.”
  3. “Wow just when I thought I couldn’t impress anymore.”
  4. “Unexpected but appreciated attempt to compliment me there! Thank you!”
  5. “Interesting choice of words there but hey at least it’s still a compliment.”

Or you can be blatantly sincere:

  1. “You have a unique way of saying things, don’t you? Thanks anyways.”
  2. “You always have such a brilliant way with backhanded compliments. Did you practice a lot?”10. “Nice to know my efforts didn’t go unnoticed even if wrapped in an undertone.”
  3. “Ah, there’s that classic humor of yours! Takes a special person to see it though.”
  4. “Thanks for the compliment… I think…?”
  5. “Sarcasm at its finest! But hey, thank you.”
  6. “Well, isn’t this a surprise! A layered compliment- thanks!”
  7. “Look at that layers of meaning behind your compliments – and people say English is easy!”

Whatever you pick, bad taste will stay in your mouth afterward. But it is not up to you it’s up to that other, toxic person.