Tag Archives: Awkwardness

When Compliments are Uncomfortable

Have you ever been praised for being humble, after which a response was expected? Have you ever been told you’re the most beautiful, or purest, or kindest, or most inspiring, (or most anything) person the compliment-giver has ever met? What is it about these kinds of praise that make sensible people cringe a bit?

It might be the hint of insincerity that accompanies statements like that. I often sense that people who dole out such hyperbolic compliments at will rarely, if ever, mean it. And it makes me wonder what runs through their heads as they utter the disingenuous words. As for praising someone for being humble, I think maybe the praise-giver doesn’t always realize just how uncomfortable that could be for the receiver – who, if she/he were truly humble, would be immensely embarrassed by such commendation.

But I will start by addressing the hyperboles. This sort of applies to one of the things I’ve noticed, living in America. You see, people claim to “love” more frequently than I had ever seen. How many times have you heard something along the lines of, “Oh! I just LOVE (insert banal object/ mediocre person here)!”? What’s wrong with saying you “like” something? Or saying that something or someone is your current favourite? I am a strong believer and perpetrator of the notion that “Love” is a strong word, which should be reserved only for when you truly and deeply love. We should refrain from throwing it around so willy-nilly. I do realize I may be fighting a lost cause here, so…I’ll just have to keep cringing inwardly whenever I get annoyed about this.

There is something about hyperbolic compliments, or expressing praise in exaggerations that make them seem so much more bogus than the speaker may have intended. Here’s a story to illustrate:

I remember my first time speaking at a Bible study group I belong to on Campus. I was so nervous, I fumbled a lot, I could hardly get the words out, my voice wasn’t loud enough to reach the back of the room at times, and there were a lot of awkward pauses and nervous stares. I led Bible study two weeks in a row, and admittedly, by the second week I had gotten a bit better at it. I was able to laugh at myself a bit more, but I wasn’t an expert by any means! After that second week, I remember a particular girl, who I’ll call Samantha for the sake of this blog, came to me and said, “That was so good! Yo! [she] should lead Bible Study every week, guys!”

A part of me knew that Samantha may have been saying that just to make me feel better about all the fumbles, (and she was not being sarcastic at all, in case you were wondering). However, I did wonder why she would go to such excessive lengths, which just made her compliment come across as insincere (Really? EVERY week?).

Fast-forward a year or two later, Samantha probably already forgot this little encounter. I was asked to lead Bible study again, and this time I was way more comfortable up there, and it was just a smoother, and dare I say, fun delivery of the message I was given (still not an expert though). Along comes Samantha, in the middle of a conversation I was having with someone else about how much of an improvement I had made from last time. Imagine my astonishment, when she chimes in something along the lines of, “oh yeah, that was kinda bad, but you were great up there this time!” My initial suspicions were confirmed at this point. You can imagine what now runs through my head every time Samantha pays me a compliment. -_-

Another uncomfortable kind of praise is when you’re lauded for your humility! As far as I know, there is no right, non-awkward way of getting out of this kind of compliment without offending anyone. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

If you are going to praise someone for being humble, please do not say it to their faces! One of three things will happen; the person could thank you and generously accept that compliment, at which point they don’t seem that humble anymore; The person could start to explain why they are not humble, at which point you’d just wish they’d shut up and accept a compliment for goodness sake!; Or the person would not know how to react, at which point a massively awkward moment ensues.

If you’ve read up to this point, please let me know how you’d react if someone praised you for being humble, or gave you a hyperbolic compliment contaminated by insincerity.

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Self-aware Awkwardness: Cute or Nah?

In a previous post I talked about small talk, and the problems that arise when you’re forced to engage. I fancy myself a kind of expert when it comes to these, partly because I feel like I have participated in so many such exchanges. I like to think that I can now navigate these conversations in such a way that the other person either doesn’t feel the full awkwardness of the exchange, or we get a good laugh out of it somehow.

I think the key to my “success” (I don’t think you can really call it that, but I choose to anyway) is being aware of the conversation’s inelegance, and finding my way around it. When I do have to make small talk – because it is inescapable sometimes – I go into it with this understanding; If you have this kind of conversation in a social environment where you can admit it for what it is (an awkward exchange), and you’re able to laugh at yourself, then it takes a bit of the simulated edge off the conversation. Acknowledging awkwardness sometimes introduces an element of authenticity that is often lacking in most obligatory and/or unrewarding small talk.

If you’re a bumbling idiot, and you know it, and can laugh at yourself, then hurray! Because that could actually be adorable to an extent – it’s endearing, and also connotes a sense of sincerity. However, if you’re a bumbling idiot and are completely oblivious to the fact, or continually/consistently deny or ignore it, then that’s just tragic. Because, trust me, if you can’t laugh at yourself, others will do it for you.

I must say that in my experience, self-aware awkwardness can be overdone! Too many times, I’ve heard people START conversations with “OMG, I’m so awkward, sorry!” and it often leads to me wondering if their private thoughts were responsible for this otherwise incongruent outburst.

It’s definitely not a good idea to let yourself be known as that one person who always claims to be weird and awkward, because you might just speak that reputation into existence. I have a friend who apologizes for her “awkwardness” after almost every sentence, and sometimes even before she starts a statement. A typical conversation started by her would begin with something like, “I’m sorry, this is gonna be so awkward, but what do you think about so and so?”

As someone who is introverted, or shy, or just handicapped when it comes to impromptu social exchanges with non-friends, it really just comes down to being aware of your environment. If there is no indication that other people sense the awkwardness, or that pointing it out will help the air, then you’re most likely better off not doing so.

This is probably a good time for me to say that I still stand by my belief that silence can be better sometimes. How ‘bout you save yourself from the stress on occasion?