Etiquette Faux Pas: The Back-Handed Compliment or “Foot-in-Mouth Disease

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Have you ever received a back-handed compliment? Sure, you have. You know the one where someone is trying to say something nice, but it comes out backwards? When the person walks away, you are left wondering, “Am I supposed to feel good about that?” My all time favorite is one that we hear frequently. Just after getting your hair cut or a new style, someone looks at you and says, “Oh, your hair looks so much better.” You are left to ponder how bad did it look before.

My thoughts on this were prompted by a discussion among the anchor people on the Today Show. Al Roker cited an instance when he was recognized by a fan who said, “My, you look so much better in person.”  One of the female anchors mentioned having an encounter with someone who said, “Wow, you look so much thinner on TV.”

All of these were well-intentioned statements that backfired. Most of the people who made these remarks had no idea of their impact. So if you want to pay someone a compliment, make sure it is a compliment. Think about what you are about to say; in other words, be sure to engage your brain first.

If you want to say something nice about someone’s new hairstyle, the comment would be, “I love you new hairstyle. You look terrific.” Should you meet the TV celebrity (and who knows, it could happen), you might want to say, “You look just as wonderful in person as you do in front of the camera.”

Think before you speak so your well-intended remarks do not become the proverbial back-handed compliments. Part of being a polished professional is saying the right thing at the right time. Whether you are dealing with potential clients, existing ones or co-workers, what comes out of your mouth can have a lasting impact on your relationship.

I would love to hear from you if you have ever been the recipient of one these misspoken comments. What is your story? What verbal etiquette faux pas have you encountered? Just post your story in the box below and I will start a collection.

Here’s to keeping your feet on the ground and out of your mouth!

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Photo from Savannah magazine

Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at lydia@lydiaramsey.com or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website, lydiaramsey.com.

One thought on “Etiquette Faux Pas: The Back-Handed Compliment or “Foot-in-Mouth Disease

  1. Mary Johnson

    I am one of three church organists. When the pastor complimented me in front of the congregation, it sounded like a complaint about the others. It has bothered me ever since!

    Reply

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