Most cringe at the thought of being criticized, so much so, that we think very carefully before putting ourselves into a situation that might open us up to negative feedback.
Despite trying so hard to avoid criticism, we rarely are prepared when we receive praise. In fact, in the moment, more people are uncomfortable with compliments than with criticism. Whether attributable to gender-specific, generational, or cultural factors as literature suggests, it’s time to get comfortable with compliments!
- Get to the root of the issue: Figure out what’s triggering the discomfort (hint: it’s likely in your own head). Are you plagued by “impostor syndrome” (i.e., worrying people will discover you’re a fraud) or do you wonder if the complimenter has sinister intentions or is mocking you? Maybe there are some compliments you’re fine with (e.g., “Great shoes!”), but others that are more difficult to take (e.g., “I’m very impressed by your writing skills.”). Understand what trips you up (Compliments about internal abilities? Physical qualities? Things you’re new at?), then make a game plan to address it.
- Create a strategy: Since many compliments are general (e.g., “Nice presentation!” or “Cool haircut!”), a simple “thank you” is almost always acceptable. However, many feel the need to return the compliment or downplay the remark. If you feel awkward stopping at “Thank you”:
- Have a standard reply that’s genuine for you: “Thanks, I really appreciate that!” or “Thank you – that made my day!” (for larger scale compliments).
- Resist the urge to deflect. Instead find something in the complimenter’s statement you can feel comfortable accepting (e.g., “Thanks – I was excited to try out my new slideshare skills during today’s presentation.”)
- Change your perception: Compliments, like criticism, are gifts. And also like criticism, you can choose to take or leave them, however, remember: in every interaction, you are building your brand. If you’re constantly deflecting or downplaying compliments, people will notice and worse, they’ll begin to believe you (e.g., “She probably just got lucky again.”). This is NOT the brand you want to build. If you’re aiming for humility, there are other ways to achieve it (e.g., praise other’s great work, share the limelight), while still owning your strengths.
If someone takes the time to offer a compliment (whether or not you believe it’s genuine or fully deserved), graciously accept it. Your brand may depend on it.