Compliments are criticisms in disguise

“Compliments are criticisms in disguise”

Now hold your horses!

Before you go getting all disagreeable about that strange statement, let me give you the context.


I’ve been reading a book “The Inner Game of Tennis” this week.

And no, I’m not particularly interested in learning tennis at the moment.

But as it teaches tennis it also teaches how to master anything in life, and playing the game of life itself…

…which I’m highly interested in.


And the key teaching in the book is letting go of judgment.

A quote:

“The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad.

When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, concentrated play.”


So the rest of the quote that hauled you into this email kicking and screaming against your better ‘judgment’ (see we just need to let that go and we can stop kicking and screaming;) is:

“Compliments are criticisms in disguise. Both are used to manipulate behavior, and compliments are just more socially acceptable.”

It came from a tennis player learning to let go of judgment.

To let go of the need to classify everything as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

And so the point is, if the way we compliment ourselves sends us into ‘judgment mode’ it can be just as detrimental to our learning progress as a criticism.

So don’t leave this email wondering whether all compliments are criticisms in disguise.

If I say a heartfelt “You are beautiful!” to my wife (you are by the way!) there is no possible criticism in disguise in that compliment.

So I only agree with the statement in the proper context.

It is HIGHLY valuable to compliment ourselves and others and speak love and praise.



What I learned from this is that not all ‘so-called’ compliments are created equal. And I will be more aware of value judgments, that are often ‘hidden’ in compliments so I can let them go.

An example –

I get a positive review on some writing and my ego thinks: “You are a good writer!”

A good compliment? Or disguised criticism?

Definitely a value judgment.

Hmmmm….that explains why I used to feel bad when I got a negative review.

Naturally that meant “you are a bad writer”.

Neither of those thoughts really serves me.


My worth – my value – has nothing to do with how I write. Or how other people perceive my writing.

I am amazing regardless of any of that. I am me. I am unique. I am the only one of me.

And same for you!


What thought would serve me better when I get a positive review?

“I’m really happy for that person. It’s helpful to know the communication was well received. What can I learn from that?”

And the negative review?

“Interesting. What can I learn from that?”


For you, in whatever you’re doing, I think it will be helpful to pay attention to the positive and negative value judgments you are making.

Just notice them.

You don’t need to start judging yourself as ‘bad’ because you notice yourself judging things either…that kind of defeats the purpose;)

It’s OK.

It’s natural and its a habit.

The goal of mastering the inner game though, is to practice letting go of judgment.

try it…see how it feels!

You be the judge!

no..wait…don’t judge…darr.

anyway – notice whether you are able to ‘see’ more clearly without the muddying the waters with all the judgments.


And on this topic of judging, self-acceptance, and compassion…

Check out this previous podcast interview episode with Mateo Tabatabaiy – we had a wonderful conversation on this topic.

Have a great, non-judgmental day!


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