We all love compliments, especially sincere compliments. They give us a lift, brighten our days, and make us feel appreciated. However, sometimes they’re also warning signs. At times, a compliment can be something of a bait and switch, especially if it seems to come out of nowhere. I’m not suggesting paranoia, because all of these compliments can be completely sincere, but they can also hide ulterior motives. Sometimes you need to be careful that you don’t let the warm fuzzy glow of appreciation lead you into the wrong situation. Here are a few words of praise that should encourage you to be a little on guard:
You’re my go-to girl/guy
Why this feels great: We all want to feel like we are trusted, competent, and valued. When someone, whether it is a friend, family member, co-worker, or boss identifies us as the person they can count on to get the job done, it gives us confidence. It makes us feel appreciated. It’s awesome.
Why you should stay alert: There’s a decent chance that this compliment is going to be followed by “which is why I’m coming to you with _____.” Sometimes, this specific praise is meant to put us in a helpful frame of mind, before we are asked or told to take on a new task. In some situations, you may not have a choice about that new task, but if you do, you need to stop, take a breath, and think logically rather than emotionally.
One of my former supervisors always called me the “go-to girl”, and it wasn’t always a bad thing. He was great about showing appreciation both privately and publicly, especially in front of the higher ups. However, anytime he opened a conversation with this compliment, I knew he was about to hit me with something work intensive, last minute, or both. My personal favorite was calling me ten minutes before the end of the day and asking if I could give a presentation the next morning. (I said “yes” immediately, and ended up working all night to prepare.) It took a long time for me to learn to stop and think before I let the glow of pride overcome my ability to think through what I was actually being asked to do.
You’re so good at ____.
Why this feels great: For starters, see above. Again, it’s affirmation, and it makes us feel good. Compliments based on our abilities and achievements are some of the most fulfilling, because we’re more likely to feel like we’ve earned them.
Why you should stay alert: Frequently, whatever the thing you’re good at is the thing you’re about to be asked to do. This is even more common with the popular variant “You’re so much better at ____ than I am.” This is another compliment that could also be a set up.
My friend Mike works in IT, and he’s always on alert when someone opens a conversation, or abruptly changes the subject, with “You know so much about computers”. He told me that as soon as he hears this sentence, he immediately starts trying to decide if he has the time and/or inclination to help the speaker with a problem, because 99% of the time they’re about to ask. I’m not suggesting that you should never say “yes” in a situation like this (I’m actually a big fan of being helpful), but again, you need to stop and make sure you’re making the right decision.
I know I can trust you
Why this feels great: Being trusted is really high praise. This compliment shows that people recognize and respect your integrity. No one wants to be seen as a gossip or breaker of confidences.
Why you should stay alert: This could be a sign you’re headed into an awkward position. The secret you’re going to hear might put you between two friends or loved ones, threaten your professional ethics, or give you a desire to intervene in a situation. I’m not saying that you should shut people down when they say this, but you need to be on alert and ready to cut the conversation off quickly if it starts to veer into uncomfortable territory. If you’ve ever thought, “I wish you hadn’t told me that”, you know exactly what I mean here.
I will never forget one of my friends following “I know I can trust you” with a confession that he was having an affair with a married woman. She was also a friend, and so was her husband. He wasn’t looking for my opinion (although he received it, and then some), but just wanted to tell me about the relationship. Asking me to keep that information to myself was completely unfair, and since then I’ve been much more careful about becoming a secret keeper.
You’re so easy-going.
Why this feels great: If you’re at all familiar with popular entertainment, you have seen the uptight, type-A stereotype. It’s presented as negative, frustrating, and zero fun. So, being identified as the opposite has an instant positive connotation. Being flexible and easy-going inherently makes other people’s lives easier, which is often a good thing.
Why you should stay alert: However, I’m going to be blunt about this one. Sometimes people say this when what they mean is “I’m about to try and walk all over you.” I don’t mean that they’re doing it consciously, deliberately, or maliciously. However, it is alarmingly easy for someone’s subconscious view of you to shift from flexible to forgiving to doormat.
A former friend was constantly late, frequently changed plans, and often wanted me to go places and do things she knew I wasn’t comfortable with. In her mind, flexibility is the highest virtue…in other people. I try to be easy-going, but believe me, I have my limits. After growing increasingly frustrated with her constant expectation that I would be fine in all circumstances, I tried talking to her several times, but the situation never improved. Ultimately, we drifted apart.
Have you been there? Are there other compliments that belong on this list? Share your thoughts!