With my typical work attire being just slightly a notch above pajamas, and my standard work hairdo being the ever so ageless ponytail, I wouldn’t exactly say I dress up for work and dress down on my days off. I could swing through my nursing unit on an off-day for a meeting or a class, dressed in jeans and a decent blouse with my hair let down, and one of the most common comments I get is:
“You look really nice today! I didn’t recognize you at first.”
Haven’t we all either had someone say this to us, or said it to someone else? Somewhere in there is a compliment, but there’s something else there too. Something that consists of… well, not a compliment.
It’s curious, and rather revealing, the things we say without actually verbalizing them. Other unintentionally mixed compliments that leave me awkwardly scrambling to find a non-awkward response include:
“You’re really good at (some ability). I wish I could be as good as you.”
“Oh, so you’re a (fill in job title or some other specific role)? I could never do that.”
“You’re so funny” (in reaction to something you said that was not an actual joke).
There is a Bible verse that says, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” It’s true. We aren’t so good at not saying what we don’t mean to say. (How’s that for a brain-bending sentence?) We inadvertently end up saying it anyhow, somehow. It makes sense then that the responder to a schizophrenic compliment has a hard time knowing which aspect of the schizophrenia to respond to. It’s easier to just say “thank you” to the compliment portion, but somehow the other implied commentary lingers in the air and begs for our attention.
Somehow, I think there has got to be a better way to have these conversations. Either keeping the compliment in pure compliment form (which we still have struggles giving and receiving), or else shamelessly but ever so graciously delving into more honest discussions about what we’re actually thinking. Maybe what we have a hard time with is keeping that conversation going from a place in both parties that is full of grace and free of shame.
Why is that? Why do grace and shame exert such strong influence over the dynamics of these kinds of conversations?
For reference and credit, Adam McHugh’s recent blog post, “Why I Sometimes Lie About my Profession” inspired me to write this.