4 Signs of Fishing for Compliments and Why People Do It

Lauren Edwards-Fowle,

M.Sc. and B.Sc.


Posted May 6th, 2020.



When someone is fishing for compliments, it means that they are intentionally saying self-deprecating things or belittling their achievements, expecting you to say something nice to them.
Everyone likes to feel good about themselves, and I am sure we are all guilty of fishing for compliments from time to time. But why do we do it – and what sort of people are obsessed with external validation?

Signs someone is fishing for a compliment:

1. Negging

This refers to someone who constantly puts themselves down – even though they know their self-criticism isn’t true. Negging means negativity, so for example if you know someone with amazing hair who posts about how rubbish they look today, they’re probably guilty! This kind of attention-seeking draws in positive external messages, knowing that friends and family will be quick to reassure them they look as beautiful as ever.

2. Feigning insecurity

When somebody you know to be confident and outgoing feigns vulnerability, they are likely looking for encouragement to reaffirm their sense of self-belief. For example, someone who claims to have been struggling in their professional career (who you know is not) knows that they will receive messages of positive encouragement as a result of exposing their ‘insecurities’ with the world.

3. Rejecting anything nice you say

A person fishing for compliments will try to reject kind words, in return for an increased response. As an example, if you tell somebody their latest project was a great success and they brush it aside as mediocre, the chances are they are not expecting you to agree! Rather, they expect you to enthuse more about their standard of work to make sure they know just how excellent it is.

4. Pretending to be ignorant

If someone you know has an obvious style, accent, or look, they might pretend not to have realized how much attention it brings them. In doing so, they are attempting to draw more attention to the fact, and receive more compliments and mentions about what makes them so special.
Overall, someone making statements about themselves which they know to be untrue; whether about their achievements, personality, or appearance – is probably fishing for compliments to tell them the opposite.

Why Do Some People Fish for Compliments?

Let’s face it, not much brightens up your day like an unexpected compliment! However, some people can’t resist, and some have very serious reasons why.

1. They lack self-esteem

Sometimes it can come off as arrogant, but a person trying to attract positive words may be suffering from low self-esteem. It may be that they cannot acknowledge their worth without external validation, and feel compelled to seek this regularly to reaffirm their confidence levels.

2. They are an egotist

On the other hand, people who can’t stand not being congratulated may be pure egotists. Their arrogance makes them desire to be the center of attention at all times. They might find it impossible to see somebody else in the limelight and need to receive as much attention as possible.

3. They feel inferior

Not everybody who is trying to gain favorable attention is arrogant; they might genuinely feel inferior to others and seek encouragement to deem themselves worthy of their company, privileges, and opportunities. In this case, compliments make them feel that they are in the right place, and can combat experiences such as imposter syndrome.

4. They thrive on admiration

With the limitless power of social media comes a greater capacity for comparison than ever before. Some people feel an intense need for acknowledgment, and collect admirers to feel good about themselves. Many influencers count their qualities by the number of followers they have, and receiving kind comments will reinforce their feelings of satisfaction.

5. They are genuinely proud

We have all had those periods where we have achieved something outstanding, and yet, it seems to slip by unnoticed. A subtle way of bringing attention to our successes is by fishing for compliments, perhaps by mentioning in an off-hand way that our greatest aspiration has been reached. In this situation, heap on the praise – they deserve it!

6. They need external validation

Hand in hand with self-esteem issues, many people find it hard to validate their actions or feel a sense of self-gratification without needing this reinforced by other people. These people will always need validation from strangers to make them feel good. Some examples of this behavior include:
  • receiving admiring messages,
  • not acknowledging or accepting the power of their thoughts,
  • feeling compelled to follow the trend in publishing the minutiae of their private lives online.

What’s the Difference between Fishing for Compliments and Phishing for Compliments?

Whilst fishing is usually harmless, and a small public attempt to gain recognition, phishing for compliments is something rather more sinister.
Phishing is a malicious activity, usually online or through email servers, to get access to private information and data. Think about your credit card details, address, or information about your identity.
One of the clever ways that hackers and spammers have to steal your data is to go phishing for compliments; so have your wits about you! If you receive an unsolicited message from a gorgeous person asking what you think of their outfit, don’t reply, don’t click on the ‘private’ photo they have sent you, and don’t spend a moment wondering if you have just let a wonderful opportunity pass you by.
With our vulnerable hearts and generous natures, it can feel natural to respond for pleas for validation. But if these don’t come from somebody you know, keep your distance!


Lauren Edwards-Fowle
Copyright © 2012-2020 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.


About the Author: Lauren Edwards-Fowle

Lauren Edwards-Fowle is a professional copywriter based in South East England. Lauren worked within Children's Services for five years before moving into the business sector. She holds an MSc in Applied Accountancy and BSc in Corporate Law. She now volunteers within the community sport sector, helping young people to live healthier, more productive lifestyles and overcome the barriers to inclusion that they face. With a keen interest in physical wellbeing, nutrition and sports, Lauren enjoys participating in a variety of team sports in her spare time, as well as spending time with her young family and their dog Scout.

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