Compliments are Complicated: How to Receive Praise Like a Superstar
I’m not a natural compliment-taker. I’m quick to dodge the compliment, the attention, the praise and often give one back in return. There are a ton of reasons for this: it feels awkward raking in the good news; it feels like too much attention; it feels like I’m being singled out. But I’m not alone; taking a compliment is really hard for most people.
Many of my coaching clients frequently share their discomfort with taking a compliment. Both male and female client express their actual dislike of moments of praise, positive feedback and flattery. They, like me, prefer to dole out the compliments and actively avoid the feeling of being in the spotlight. Because this is so common, I did some research and I paid attention to my own discomfort in receiving a compliment. I also paid attention to the feeling of having a compliment blocked or diminished.
In my research I discovered that compliments are a common point of discomfort. In an article in Entrepreneur titled “How to Receive A Compliment Without Being Awkward About It” the author gives 7 points to remember when accepting a compliment or an award. She also shares that there are three common responses to a compliment: acceptance, deflection or rejection. “Rather than humbly accept or outright reject the kind words, individuals often choose to deflect or dilute the compliment.” People are very quick to deflect their impact (“it was no big deal”) or minimize or dilute the compliment (“this old thing? I’ve had this forever”).
In a research platform called CARLA (Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition) they state that Americans block compliments two thirds of the time. That’s a lot! On the CARLA site they offer more detail on the common ways that people deflect or minimize compliments including:
Comment on the history (“I’ve had this forever”)
Shift credit (“my girlfriend got it for me”)
Request reassurance (“do you really like it?”)
Return (“you too”)
Scale down (“that was hardly my best moment”)
Some people flat out reject compliments and CARLA offers this familiar example “A: You look good. B: I feel fat.”
In an article on Psychology Today titled “Why Some People Hate Taking Compliments” another reason why people dodge compliments is self-esteem. “Compliments can make people with low self-esteem feel uncomfortable because they contradict their own self-views. In other words, receiving praise from others when we feel negatively about ourselves elicits discomfort because it conflicts with our existing belief system.”
No matter the cause, a compliment takes two people. It’s not just about receiving, it’s also very much about giving. The giver has his or her own motivations and that is worth exploring. For the giver, giving is a compliment is about engaging with another person and finding or creating a connection. In the moment of a compliment, the giver isn’t only thinking about the receiver, they’re thinking about themselves as well. I have discovered that, for the giver, compliments:
Are a connection point. People extend themselves when they give a compliment as a way to start a conversation. “I enjoyed what you said” is a way to connect to someone and demonstrate openness.
Show what you have in common. “Those are beautiful shoes” demonstrates a similarity that can bring people together.
Can take courage to give. If someone doesn’t know you that well then it probably took some courage for the giver to approach you and give their compliment out loud. The complimentary person is sharing their opinion or making a statement by aligning themselves with you and this in itself might have taken some courage for him or her to speak up.
Feel good to give. When someone honestly shares their positive feedback, it feels good. “I see something wonderful and I want to acknowledge it.” Taking a moment to share a thoughtful compliment feels good to the giver and they’re hoping for a positive response.
Help to soften the blow. We often insert a compliment before offering criticism, making a big request or as a preface to an apology. This happens all the time, we often give praise right before we have to be the bearer of bad news.
Knowing all this - the common discomfort with receiving and the various motivations for giving a compliment - how does one properly receive due praise? Here’s what to keep in mind:
Say thank you.First, say thank you while looking the person in the eye. Make sure your body language is open and supports your gratitude.
Give acknowledgement. Share what the praise means to you, sincerely and authentically.
Continue the conversation. Stay in the moment and continue to engage with the giver so that you can prolong – rather than cut short – this moment of connection.
Be empathetic. Remember that the giver is being generous and is seeking to connect with you. Don’t just think about your discomfort, consider the other person. They may also feel uncomfortable and are summoning their courage to engage with you.
While I’m still not always comfortable with compliments I have worked at being more gracious when receiving them. And I’ve discovered that receiving a compliment openly and fully actually feels really good. And giving one feels especially good when it is graciously received.