You did your best: The Art of the Noncompliment

A few years ago my friend Jeannine and I began collecting “noncompliments”, a spinoff of a list of band comments that another friend and I had compiled after sharing post-gig stories from our bands. (His was called Satellite Lost—I’ll have to find out if they’re still out there somewhere.) Here’s a sample from that first list:

Post-gig comments * I can’t believe you pulled that off. * Don’t worry, there will be other gigs. *You've gotten a lot better since the last time I saw you. * I love Alex's new guitar. * Have you been practicing a lot? * That was a really long set. How many songs was that? *You guys are fun to watch. * It's not your fault. The sound guy f&cked you. * “You guys are good” where “good” is too high-pitched and reveals the speaker’s strained attempt to cover up his or her real feelings. (Credit due to Dorothy Hui for this last one.)

I think my all-time favorite was: "How do you think you did?" [As our drummer Joe put it, “I didn’t realize it was a test – I think I passed.”]

Anyway, Jeannine and I discovered countless ways to courteously offend others from asking an off-topic question when a compliment is called for to giving self-improvement gifts to handing out praise for meeting bare minimum standards. Here are a few examples --more to come.

  • I can see what you’re trying to do.
  • You’re very practical about clothing.
  • It had its moments.
  • You look cute (when dressed for a prom, wedding, or other grand occasion when “cute” is not the goal).
  • Wow, you cut your hair!
  • Is that a new outfit?
  • You got up there and did your thing.
  • I don’t know why people don’t like your artwork.
  • That sounds like an interesting job.
  • That seems like a worthwhile thing to be doing.
  • She’s pretty enough.
  • You had the date of a lifetime and the night is reported back through a friend as “We had a few laughs”.
  • You look happy.
  • You are glowing.
  • He's actually pretty good at his job.
  • They balance each other out (for a couple).
  • You're lucky you found someone.
  • I wish I had the balls to wear that.
  • Trust me, one day you’ll be glad you picked someone who is stable and hardworking.
  • You’re great at setting limits for yourself.


  1. And don't forget the Seinfeld classic: attractive man to Elaine -"You're breathtaking."

  2. I was chatting with a friend today and she was bewildered that the other day, one of her clients (she is a hairdresser) told her that she was too smart for her job and should go back to school. I told her about this blog post you'd written and promised I'd pass along this fantastic example of a noncompliment. Love this topic, BTW.

  3. It's your look. ( also pronounced in a higher pitch).


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