Most people like compliments but they would rather overhear someone saying something nice about them than to them. It can be easier to handle someone making a nasty remark to you than when they compliment you. Perhaps it’s because we’re more accustomed to falling short in someone’s eyes that we know what to say when someone insults us than knowing what to say when we’re complimented.
If a man tells a woman she’s beautiful and she hasn’t heard anyone else tell her that, she may find it difficult to believe and even more difficult to come up with a response. It’s even likely that she will think the only reason he’s saying that is to get her into bed.
Then there is the woman who knows she is beautiful but she’d rather be complimented on her intelligence. He says she’s beautiful and she says thank you and then tries to change the subject but he keeps coming back to her looks. You can only say thank you so many times before it gets very tiring.
It seems to be easier to take a compliment about one’s achievements than about one’s appearance because you have to work hard to achieve something noteworthy whereas your genes can take the credit for your looks.
Then, too, most people have been told often enough that they have to be modest and so, in trying to underplay the compliment, there is an awkwardness that springs up and they fumble for something appropriate to say. The end result is that the person who has given the compliment feels deflated and sorry for saying anything at all.
Many people have as much trouble giving a compliment as receiving a compliment. For whatever reason, the words simply don’t come out. One woman complained that her mother always told her that her dress looked nice but never said that she looked nice or that she looked nice in the dress.
It would probably be easier on everyone if the person who has been complimented could just say thank you, and move onto another subject. It would eliminate the feeling that s/he has to justify anything or think it necessary to return the compliment; it would also go a long way in deterring unwarranted embarrassment about an awkward situation.
And sometimes it’s just easier to say nothing and avoid the potential pitfalls.