My default response to a compliment on something I’m wearing tends to be “Oh this? I’ve had this ages, I just got it from …”

Sometimes if I’m feeling even more awkward I might throw in “I just got it in the sales” or “It was the only thing I could find this morning that was clean”. Yes, I have actually said that.

To a compliment on a good piece of work I might claim that it wasn’t hard, or say something like “you hardly need to be a genius to do my job”. I’d never make that sort of comment to a colleague, so why can’t I accept the recognition and enjoy being appreciated?

I’m one of the many people who find it hard to accept compliments. I feel awkward and uncomfortable and I’d rather talk about anything else. But why? I know I’m not alone in this, many of us just aren’t good at hearing nice things about ourselves whether it’s about our great taste or a good job we’ve done, even if we actually have done something really quite brilliant, and even if we know it.

Recently I’ve been complimented a few times on a new skirt. It’s nice, I admit that I’m really quite pleased with it and I don’t see why I would have bought it if it wasn’t, but I’m puzzled with my response which to date has been along the lines of the above.

One observation is that we might find it hard to accept compliments when we just don’t feel that the thing we achieved is special. I suppose I could have been thinking a compliment was unnecessary;  it isn’t like I actually designed the skirt myself. I just chose it and wore it that day and there are probably hundreds of women’s wearing the same skirt from the same shop who have my taste.

So anyone could have done the thing I was being complimented for, and by accepting praise I might have felt a bit of a fraud. It’s true that we play down attention when we don’t like to be in the spotlight. Being in my 30’s I’m from a generation which was brought up to be seen and not heard we might not want to appear conceited or as my mum would tell me, to look like a show-off.

The point is, I didn’t have to have made that skirt or in fact to have done anything special at all to earned the compliment. What I think it ultimately comes down to is self doubt, even just a tiny bit is enough to cast a shadow over what could be a nice confidence building moment. And this is the catch 22. If we start to accept compliments our confidence will grow but until we start to build confidence, accepting compliments is going to continue to feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Not being able to accept compliments isn’t just damaging for your own feelings of self worth, but can send a different message than we intended to the people giving the compliments. Ignoring or deflecting compliments can send the message that the giver of the compliment is wrong, that their judgement is wrong, or that you don’t value their opinion. Responding sarcastically or defensively might even be interpreted as hurtful.

Needless to say I need to spend some time improving my response to compliments, to improve both my own feelings of self worth but also to be more considerate of the feelings of people giving me compliments in the first place. It’ll be a great bonus to be able to reduce the amount of times I feel the need to kick myself after a conversation.

Knowing how to respond to compliments is a good place to start. It’s a skill I’ve never really practised so I’ve done some research to get started and there are three ways of dealing with compliments.

Passive response

This is where you ignore the compliment or deflect it on to somebody else. An example of this would be if you were complimented by your boss for doing a good job of something at work and your response was to say “well, Bob did most of the work”.

What you’re saying then is that your boss shouldn’t be speaking to you at all, he should actually go directly to Bob. In doing so, you’re doing yourself out of recognition of your contribution.

Aggressive response

This is where you deny a compliment or even making a sarcastic remark.

This is sending the message that the person giving you the compliment is wrong. You could actually offend them, make them feel stupid, and damage your relationship. The last thing you’d expect to encounter when giving a compliment would be the other person snapping back at you, but I’d certainly think twice before complimenting them on anything again if I’d had that response.

Assertive response

A healthy response is an assertive one and here’s my four step plan for accepting compliments assertively.

  1. Look the person in the eye
  2. Listen to them without interrupting
  3. Let the compliment sink in
  4. Say thank you

That’s it. Thank you is enough, you don’t need to follow up although if you feel you really need to you can say something like “thank you, I did work hard on that” or “thank you, I’m pleased you like it”.

I think by not accepting compliments I might have missed out on some of the warm fuzzy feelings of life. A take away from this for me is to listen more so that I can have a better understanding of my strengths and talents. Accepting compliments not only helps us feel good about our accomplishments and abilities building our confidence, but it also makes the giver of the compliment feel good, helping our relationship with them. It’s a win-win all round.


3 thoughts on “Compliments

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