Written by: Lach Ravelo

Fishing for Compliments: Meaning, Signs, and the 6 Genuine Reasons Why People Do It


There are several ways to boost our self-esteem, but fishing for compliments seems to be the easiest thing to do.

But there’s more to that than meets the eye. Let’s look at the reasons people do it, what it says about them, and most importantly how to respond when someone is fishing for a compliment from you.

You’ve probably seen it happen thousands of times… a friend, who just had a haircut, complains about her new hairstyle, even though it looks good. And then, there’s your super-smart classmate, who got high marks in the exams but is worried about maintaining his grade point average!

Or maybe you’ve done it yourself. You’ve just finished remodeling your bedroom, taken a picture, and posted it on social media with the caption “my room is a mess” or something like that. Of course, the comments will come pouring in, assuring you that your room looks great.

All of these situations feature one common theme –  everyone is fishing for compliments. 

What exactly does this mean? What are the signs? Why do people fish for compliments? How do we deal with them? 

These are just some of the things that we will be discussing in this article.

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Fishing for Compliments Meaning

fishing for compliments meaning

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “compliment” as “a remark that expresses approval, admiration, or respect.” 

Typically, compliments are given freely. When we see something nice, eye-catching, or simply incredible, we usually do not hesitate to give a compliment.

Meanwhile, the same reference defines “fishing for compliments” as “an act that aims to get people to say good things about someone.” 

It’s an idiomatic expression that is often used to describe a person who tries to make others say something nice about them. In this case, the compliment is not given freely; instead, people are somehow “persuaded” into saying something good about the person.

The expression can be likened to the act of catching fish. When we go fishing, we use bait to try and lure the fish into biting, so we can catch them. Similarly, someone who fishes for compliments uses “bait” to catch – and you guessed it – compliments! 

The expression “digging for compliments” is sometimes used, although “fishing for compliments” is more common.

Examples of Fishing for Compliments

fishing for compliments

People fish for compliments all the time, almost everywhere, and in different situations. Here are some of the scenarios that you may have encountered once in a while:

In school. Your classmate has a new bag and makes it a point to carry it everywhere she goes. Meanwhile, another classmate just got a perfect score on a test and displayed it on his locker for everyone else to see.

At work. Your co-worker is up for promotion, and she can’t seem to stop talking about it. Meanwhile, your boss just got a new haircut. He constantly checks himself in the mirror and secretly looks around for people who might ‘appreciate’ his new look. 

 At home. Your mom has just made an elaborate cake and served it on the table – even if there’s no special occasion. Meanwhile, your dad complains that his back hurts after spending hours washing and polishing the family car.

On social media. A friend posts a picture of a new dress, stating how lucky she was to have bought it on sale. Meanwhile, another friend posts a close-up photo, complaining about how awful his skin looks (when it actually looks great). 

In all of these cases, these people could be fishing for compliments. Each one is waiting for others to say something about their looks, new stuff, or accomplishments. 

So how can we tell if a person is “fishing”? Let’s look for some signs.

Signs that a Person is Fishing for Compliments

How can you tell if a person is fishing for compliments? Here are some common, tell-tale signs:

1. The person often puts himself/herself down.

fishing for compliments synonym

“I look fat! My hair is a mess, and my skin looks terrible,” says the relatively slim girl, who has beautiful hair and almost perfect skin. In response to these statements, the people around would tell her otherwise, assuring her that she looks great.

Putting oneself down is sometimes called “negging,” which is the practice of saying something negative to elicit positive comments. It’s a classic example of fishing for compliments!

2. The person pretends to be insecure or vulnerable.

fishing for compliments examples

Quite similar to “negging,” some people pretend to be more insecure and vulnerable than they really are, just to get noticed. 

For instance, you might have a classmate who is insecure about his grades, worried that he might not get accepted into the university he wants. In reality, however, he has above-average rates and has been doing well all school year. He was simply fishing for compliments!

3. The person rejects your compliments.

how to respond to someone fishing for compliments

Perhaps you’ve come across a person who has just won a tennis match, and so you congratulate her. Instead of saying “thank you,” however, she brushes your greeting aside and complains that it wasn’t her best performance. 

Naturally, you would respond by giving more positive comments. You would then try to convince her that she is an excellent tennis player. Notice that by rejecting your initial compliment, she was able to elicit more compliments from you!

4. The person pretends to be ignorant.

Let’s say you have a classmate who is sporting a new look — a different makeup style, for example. She doesn’t say anything and pretends not to see that other people have noticed. By not saying anything, she gets more attention, and people start commenting on her new look.

 As you can see, when a person puts himself down, rejects your compliments, and pretends to be insecure or ignorant, he is most likely fishing for compliments.

6 Reasons Why People Fish for Compliments

fishing for compliments psychology

So far, we’ve discussed some examples and signs of fishing for compliments. We also talked about the meaning behind fishing for compliments. 

Now, let’s try to determine why people do them. Here are some possible reasons:

1. They have low self-esteem.

how to stop fishing for compliments

Some people have low self-esteem, and they need constant “external validation.” The person you might think is arrogant and always fishing for compliments may be suffering from low self-esteem. The person may not realize it, but getting attention and positive comments is probably their way of gaining self-confidence.

2. They feel inferior to others.

she is fishing for compliments meaning

Some people have not only low self-esteem but also feel inferior or “lower” than others. They may think that they need to constantly get attention and positive comments to feel accepted. 

Again, these people may not be aware that they are fishing for compliments, just to feel that they “belong.” This situation could happen anytime, anywhere — in school, in the workplace, or even at home.

3. They need validation from other people.

signs someone is fishing for compliments

As mentioned earlier, some people need external validation, mainly due to self-esteem issues. They crave attention and try to get it through their looks, their actions, and even through social media. 

You may have noticed how some people constantly post selfies and pictures of their private lives on social media, only to become upset when there are a few “likes” or comments. This could be a sign of low self-esteem and the need for external validation.

4. They are egotistic.

Some people fish for compliments simply because they are egotistic. In other words, they are constantly thinking only about themselves and what they want. They also consider themselves to be better and more important than other people. Moreover, egotists like to be noticed and crave attention and compliments almost all the time.

5. They like to be admired.

be specific when giving compliments

Speaking of getting noticed, some people have a compelling need to be admired. 

In parties and other social gatherings, they are most likely the center of attention. They thrive on acknowledgment, compliments, and admiration. 

In the world of social media, their main aim is to get as many “likes” and “followers” as possible in order to feel good about themselves.

6. They are genuinely proud of themselves.

stop fishing for compliments

Still, some people fish for compliments simply because they are genuinely proud of themselves for accomplishing something. 

For instance, you may be excited about passing an important exam or getting your driver’s license. You happily share the good news with your friends or post about it on social media. In this case, compliments are truly well-deserved!

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How to Deal with People Who Constantly Fish for Compliments

what does fishing for compliments mean

Maybe you have a classmate, co-worker, or friend who is always fishing for compliments. There are times that you get annoyed by their behavior. So what can you do?

The first thing you can do is try and determine the reason behind the person’s behavior and why they constantly fish for compliments. 

Do they have low self-esteem or an inferiority complex? 

Are they egotistic or narcissistic? 

If you have known the person for a long time, you are bound to notice their personality traits. By now, you should be able to tell whether or not they like to fish for compliments. You should also be able to figure out the reason(s) for their behavior.

When you come across a person who is constantly fishing for compliments, your first instinct would probably be to avoid them as much as possible. But before doing anything, try to stick around and get to know the person a little more.

After some time, you may realize that the person has self-esteem issues and simply needs encouragement. And if they do, go ahead and give them the necessary support and boost their confidence. When a person is more confident and self-assured, they are less likely to go fishing for compliments.

On the other hand, if you notice that the person is egotistic or narcissistic, then perhaps it is better to withhold your compliments. In some cases, it might be best to avoid them altogether. This is because people with egotistic personalities crave attention, and receiving compliments would only trigger their thirst for more. 

By not giving them compliments, you can “teach” them how to be less self-centered and be more concerned about other people.

How to Give Compliments

use body language

Let us suppose that you encounter a person with self-esteem or someone who genuinely deserves compliments. 

How can you express your compliments? Here are some suggestions:

1. Be sincere.

When you give a compliment, make sure that it comes from the heart. A sincere compliment will make the other person feel admired and appreciated. 

In contrast, an insincere compliment would only backfire against you, making you appear “fake” and untrustworthy.

2. Use body language.

what to say when someone is fishing for compliments

When expressing a compliment, be sure to accompany your words with body language. A sincere smile, eye contact, and a positive tone of voice can help convey your message more effectively. 

If the compliment is being given via text, email, or chat – go ahead and add some “emoticons” (e.g., thumbs up, smiley face, etc.) to get your message across.

3. Be specific.

As much as possible, be specific when giving compliments because this will make people feel that that the message is solely for them. 

For example, instead of just saying, “You’re a great teacher,” to a coworker, you can add something like: “You always go out of your way to make sure that every student feels important and accepted.” 

It sounds much better!

Similarly, to a friend, you can say, “I like spending time with you because you’re a great listener and you give good advice. Thank you.” 

As you can see, being specific with your compliments will truly make the other person feel special.

4. Acknowledge people’s achievements.

Make it a point to recognize and acknowledge a person’s achievements. 

When children get good grades, praise them. When a colleague receives a much-awaited promotion, congratulate them. Of course, be sure to express your compliments clearly and sincerely.

5. Find out other people’s interests.

learn about the other person

When we meet people for the first time, we tend to notice and compliment the “obvious” things, such as appearance, accomplishments, and so on. Once you get to know them better, you find out other things, like hobbies and interests. Knowing these can help you give specific comments.

For instance, if your friend is into gardening, you can comment about how beautiful their garden looks. You can also praise their skills in cultivating different kinds of plants. Giving specific comments such as these can go a long way!

How to Receive Compliments

Of course, there are times when you are on the receiving end of a compliment. How should you respond? 

Here are some positive ways to receive compliments:

1. Say “thank you.”

be genuinely thankful

Often, a simple “thank you” is enough to express your gratitude. It also serves as a polite gesture and assures the other person that his/her compliment is well received.

In addition to saying “thank you,” you could also say, “thank you for noticing,” or “I appreciate what you said” when responding to a compliment.

2. Be aware of your body language.

Just as you should use body language when giving compliments, you should also be aware of it when receiving them. A sincere smile and eye contact can help enhance your response. Avoid looking down or crossing your arms, as this might give the impression that you are not grateful or interested.

3. Don’t “downplay” the compliment.

When someone compliments you, avoid “downplaying,” or worse, “denying” it. 

For example, when a person congratulates you for winning a contest, avoid saying something like, “It wasn’t that hard” or “It was nothing.” This will not only make you seem arrogant but also ungrateful for the compliment.

4. Avoid “questioning” the compliment.

Aside from downplaying a compliment, avoid “questioning” it as well. 

For instance, when someone praises your cooking skills, try to avoid asking “Really?” or “Do you really think so?” This may make you sound doubtful, or worse – it may make you appear like you’re fishing for compliments!

5. Share the compliment.

share the praise with your group

If a compliment applies to you and your team, don’t forget to share the praise! 

In the workplace, for example, you might receive a positive comment for a group project. Be sure to share this with the whole team, as this will encourage and motivate them, too.

6. Return the compliment.

return the compliment

In some cases, it might be appropriate to return a compliment or say something positive about the other person. 

For instance, if a colleague compliments you on your work ethic, you could also commend their team contributions. Similarly, if friends open up about how much they appreciate your good advice, take time to express your appreciation for them also.

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The Bottom Line

Giving and receiving compliments is part of our everyday lives. Compliments make a person feel admired and appreciated. They also play a critical role in boosting confidence, especially in a person who has low self-esteem and needs assurance.

Of course, whether you give or receive a compliment, make sure that you are sincere. It is also essential to get to know other people better to notice their interests and personalities. This way, you can develop specific compliments that are truly genuine, encouraging, and expressed from the heart.

What’s on your mind? 

What do you think of this article? Care to share your thoughts below? 

fishing for compliments meaning creativity mesh


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