Backhanded compliments, also known as left-handed compliments, fake compliments, or negging, are a form of communication that combines both praise and insult in a subtle or indirect way. These are remarks that may initially seem like compliments but actually contain subtle criticism or insincerity.
The person giving these compliments is often one of our friends and colleagues. It leaves the recipient feeling unsure about the giver’s true intentions. Research states, “We predict that although backhanded compliments are intended to generate liking and convey status, they fail to elicit either, because people who deliver backhanded compliments are perceived as strategic and overly-concerned with impression management.”
It is common to impulsively reply when veiled insults are uttered to you, but you need to learn some smart comebacks for backhanded compliments. These will help you take a stand without being too mean.
What Are Backhanded Compliments?
Backhanded compliments hurt people’s feelings. A person could think they are commending your abilities or achievements, but in reality, what they’re saying comes off as presumptuous and disrespectful. Or they do want to be rude to you but wrap up the comment in a way that it looks like a praise, ultimately confusing you.
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- Backhanded compliments take on various forms, such as insults disguised as compliments, passive-aggressive comments, or veiled comparisons
- These insulting compliments are often used to hide insecurity in conversations to subtly undermine someone’s confidence, self-esteem, or accomplishments, while maintaining a facade of politeness
- They can be used intentionally or unintentionally and are commonly employed in social settings, sometimes as a means of asserting dominance, but are always uttered as sugar-coated words. We live in a so-called polite society after all
- These demeaning and fake compliments could be about anything, like your gained or lost weight, age, hair, appearance, life, job, business idea, or what you wear
- For example, saying “Your new haircut makes you look much better,” “You look nicer when you have your hair straight” or “This is the ugliest shirt I’ve seen; only you could have made it look decent” are backhanded compliments because they imply an underlying insult or disbelief in the person’s choices or looks
- Another example is when someone’s update on Instagram makes us feel inferior and we try to bring them down with backhanded compliments like “I love that you have so much time in the day to put up these wonderful posts on Instagram”
- A form of backhanded compliments is ‘negging‘. It is a classic form of emotional manipulation which is defined as low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances”
As receivers, it is crucial that we recognize these disguised slights for what they are and respond with assertiveness. As givers, we must strive to provide genuine compliments that empower and uplift rather than belittling others. These remarks showcase the intricate nuances of human communication and highlight the importance of both self-awareness and empathy.
23 Backhanded Compliment Examples In Everyday Life
We have some backhanded compliments at work listed below, so you can tell off your colleague firmly and professionally. These are subtle signs of passive-aggressive behavior and include backhanded compliment examples from family members that we all can relate to too. If you’re someone whose instincts hit quite late when someone insults you, we have got comebacks for backhanded compliments as well.
On asking how to deal with such people, a Quora user said, “With a smile. Don’t let it bother you. It is a very passive-aggressive thing to do.” Another Quora user said about insults disguised as compliments, “I pretend not to notice the backhanded part and respond as if it was a genuine compliment – perhaps slightly more enthusiastically. That leaves the person with the option of explaining that it wasn’t really a compliment (which makes them look like an a***hole), or pretending it was a genuine compliment (which makes them look like an a***hole).”
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We think that it is important to reply when veiled insults start ruling the conversation. It becomes even more charming when you make yourself comfortable and keep your cool while responding to such folks. Let’s have a look at these backhanded compliments listed below and how to respond to them.
1. “You look amazing for someone who doesn’t wear makeup”
This is one of the major backhanded compliment examples for a girl. What is wrong with this ‘compliment’ is that it somehow implies that the person’s natural appearance is not attractive. The deliverer is somehow complimenting and complicating your life in one sentence.
Response: “I appreciate the compliment, but I believe everyone looks beautiful in their own way, with or without makeup”
2. “You’re pretty even without the need for all that makeup”
One of the most common backhanded compliment examples, and is often said to women. The speaker is implying that makeup is redundant or deceitful, and that people only apply it to try and look pretty.
Response: “Makeup is a form of self-expression; I wear it because I enjoy it.”
3. “You’re quite articulate for someone of your background”
This is one of the most passive aggressive backhanded compliments examples. This suggests surprise that a person can speak well despite their ‘background,’ demeaning the person as well as their race, country, class, caste, or religion.
Response: “People from diverse backgrounds are quite articulate and they probably know more than one language. How many do you know fluently?”
4. “You did an excellent job on your presentation; I didn’t expect that from you”
When we talk about backhanded compliment examples at work, this one has got to be the most common one. You must have heard colleagues or bosses use this one. It implies low expectations from the person and underestimates their abilities. This can sometimes be said by a superior who is trying to flirt and establish an office romance.
Response: “Thank you. I’m pretty proud of my presentation. I knew I’d nail it. What were you expecting, though?”
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5. “You’re so confident; I wish I could be reckless like you”
The backhanded compliment hints that the person’s confidence is perceived as carelessness or overconfidence.
Response: “Thank you! Confidence comes from self-assurance, calm, and positivity.”
6. “You’re really strong for a girl”
This is another one of the backhanded compliment examples for a girl. It suggests that women are typically weaker, undermining their strength. This results in low self-esteem in a lot of women.
Response: “Strength isn’t gender-specific; men can be physically weaker than women and women can be stronger than men.”
7. “You’re so lucky to have found a partner despite your quirks”
What makes this comment wrong in so many ways is that it suggests that the person’s quirks should have made them undesirable, or that having quirks and uniqueness is somehow bad. And that the person’s partner is bearing quite a burden.
Response: “That’s what happens in relationships. We both accept and love each other’s quirks. Do you have someone like that in your life too?”
8. “You’re not like other lawyers; you’re actually fun to be around”
This particular comment on a person’s profession is one of the many backhanded compliment examples at work. It infers the stereotype about lawyers as dull and unfriendly. Comments like these can be seen in all professions, like “You’re so down to earth for an actor” or “You’re not as boring as the other people from IT.”
Response: “Being a lawyer doesn’t define a person’s entire personality. You know that, right?”
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9. “With a little house remodeling, your place would look even better”
This comment does not have the best intentions as it implies that your home needs remodeling to be at its best. It’s coming across as nitpicking and this person is being an ungracious guest or a friend.
Response: “I wasn’t looking for feedback. And I think when a house feels like a home, that is enough for a person.”
10. “You’re so well-spoken for someone without a college degree”
By saying something like this, they are clearly underestimating the other person’s intelligence due to their educational background.
Response: “Education doesn’t determine one’s ability to communicate effectively or compassionately. In fact, many people with college degrees say whatever they want to despite how ignorant it makes them sound.”
11. “You’re brave to wear that; I could never pull it off”
This double meaning comment hints that the person’s outfit is too bold or unconventional and that they are being judged for it.
Response: “Thank you! Why am I brave? I didn’t understand. It’s just a piece of clothing.”
12. “You’re a great mom despite being so career-driven”
They are alluding that career-oriented women can’t be great parents, or a woman could only be either of the two.
Response: “I believe being a dedicated mom and professional are both achievable.”
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13. “You’re so disciplined with your diet; I’d be miserable eating like that”
This backhanded compliment implies that the person’s healthy eating habits are a source of misery, and that they must secretly hate their lifestyle.
Response: “I enjoy eating nutritiously; it makes me feel great! You should try it.”
14. “You’re such a good athlete. Maybe because you were lucky enough to get an athletic body”
The fact that this statement attributes the person’s athletic accomplishments to luck rather than sheer hard work and talent undercuts the receiver.
Response: “I’ve worked hard to excel at my sport, and I’m proud of my progress.”
15. “You’re so organized; it’s surprising for a boy”
According to this observation, individuals of a certain gender tend to be disorganized. This is especially said to males as they are unreasonably seen as irresponsible or lazy, whilst females are seen as to have the need to always be organized because it’s their job to make sure everything is in its place.
Response: “Organization is a valuable skill for any gender.”
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16. “You’re very intelligent for a woman of your descent”
This statement implies that knowledge depends on your gender and race. And that intelligence, womanhood, and certain races have very less compatibility. Women all around the world have to hear comments like these, especially those who aren’t Caucasian, like Brown and Black women.
Response: “This was quite an ignorant remark for someone who’s white. Gender and race don’t dictate one’s capacity to learn and grow.”
17. “You’re a great artist, considering your limited resources”
This ambiguous remark suggests that the artist’s work is only impressive because of limitations and not their talent. The artist may not even perceive their resources to be limited, but this speaker certainly thinks they are.
Response: “Artists create art from the heart, regardless of their resources.”
18. “You’re so patient with your disabled child; I’d lose my mind in your shoes”
In essence, this phrase implies that disabled children are a burden. It’s ableist and adds to the systemic bias against disabled people.
Response: “Parenting has its challenges, but I cherish every moment with my kids. It’s not exactly sensitive to want a specific kind of child.”
19. “You have a great smile despite having unaligned teeth”
This person is unfairly assuming that a smile can only be appealing if you have perfectly aligned teeth. The fact that they even noticed the teeth and then thought it’s okay to point them out as a flaw is ridiculous. Instead, one should always try to make others smile.
Response: “I didn’t understand. The setting of one’s teeth does not have anything to do with a great smile.”
20. “You’re very successful despite your difficult upbringing”
According to this remark, achievement shouldn’t be expected given the person’s upbringing. This remark may be a genuine compliment in another context, but no one should bring up anyone’s childhood traumas when they wish to commend their success.
Response: “My upbringing has shaped me, but it doesn’t define my success.”
21. “You’re such a good listener for someone who talks a lot”
The remark implies that the person’s chatty nature ought to impair their ability to listen, or that being both simultaneously is not possible. Also, the speaker clearly doesn’t appreciate the other’s conversations and thought this is the best way to tell them.
Response: “I believe in balanced communication; talking and listening are both important.”
22. “You’re a talented musician, especially for someone without formal training”
The other person’s musical abilities and hard work are being underestimated in favor of a mostly inaccessible formal education.
Response: “Music is a passion, and I’ve honed my skills through dedication and practice. As many musicians do.”
23. “You’re a great leader for someone who’s usually so introverted”
This statement inaccurately implies that introverted people are often not effective leaders.
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Response: “Introverts actually excel in leadership roles by leveraging their unique strengths. Leadership doesn’t belong to certain personality styles.”
In response to backhanded compliments, it’s essential to maintain confidence and assertiveness. You can acknowledge the compliment aspect, if you want to, while addressing the underlying issue or misconception politely. This helps educate the person and encourages more respectful communication.
- Backhanded comments can be hurtful to people because they are actually insults that are disguised as compliments
- These unflattering comments are frequently employed in social situations to degrade someone’s accomplishments or self-worth while putting on a front of civility
- “You’re really opinionated for a woman” or “You’ve got such strong features despite having brown skin” are a few of the examples of backhanded compliments and one should know why they are harmful
- Sometimes, responding when someone insults you like that is requisite, but it’s also really important to not lose your cool while doing so. Calling them out is necessary but you can do it in a subtle manner if you want to
The true nature of compliments is to uplift self-esteem, encourage, and make the other person feel good through your sincerity, but backhanded compliments do the opposite. We have examined the subtleties of these double-edged verbal swords. They are seemingly well-intended yet covertly demeaning. By shedding light on their nature, we can strive for positive and more constructive interactions in our personal and professional lives, fostering healthy relationships.
Understanding backhanded compliments is not just an exercise in dissecting language; it’s a journey into the intricacies of human psychology and communication. Through wisdom and empathy, let’s foster a culture of genuine appreciation, where words become instruments of support rather than weapons of criticism.