Hi K.T. -- Wonderful article -- thank you! What you've written is so true and right on point. My "I learned this lesson" happened in 6th grade ... a boy I liked complimented me on a new, somewhat "grown-up" hair cut I had just gotten and loved. But of course, I gave a self-deprecating response. I still remember the look of disgust on the boy's face and his comment -- "Why can't girls just say 'thank you' when someone gives them a compliment?" I don't know if I learned the lesson at that point, but it definitely had an impact as I got older! I will be sharing this article on my Facebook page, Jodi Blackwood's Etiquette Awareness.
We all like to be noticed and acknowledged for our accomplishments. So you would think accepting a compliment should be pretty simple. Someone says something nice. You say thank you. End of story.
In reality though, women often struggle with how to graciously accept a compliment while not coming across as vain, overly confident, or stuck-up. We respond by talking about the things we should have done better. We suggest that other people deserve to share the credit. We explain that there’s still so more to be done. Rather than risk looking self-promotional, we downplay our work, change the subject, or put others in the spotlight in our place.
Stop! These reactions are dangerous—for our self-confidence, for our careers, and even for our work relationships. Knowing how to accept compliments the right way is a crucial skill to learn. So if this sounds like you, listen up.
Here’s an example: A few years ago, a friend of mine saw a project I’d just completed and was quite impressed. “Wow, that’s amazing!” he said. “I can see how much time and effort you put into it. I wish I could do that!”
My response? Something to the effect of “Oh, it’s not that good. I really wanted it to be better, and you could totally do this.”
Thankfully, he stopped me in my tracks. By negating his compliments, he pointed out, I was dismissing my abilities and my worth—and also his opinion. By suggesting that my project was so easy anyone could do it (which, of course, was untrue), I was saying that anyone could do my job—was that really the picture I wanted to paint? Plus, by responding that it wasn’t good, right after he said it was amazing, I was saying that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
It was then that realized I had to change the way I responded to compliments—that when I was complimented, I had to let people give my accomplishments the credit they were due, and I also had to convey that I value my colleagues and their opinions.
A few years later, here’s what I’ve come to learn. Truth is, when someone notices and appreciates something you’ve done, they’re usually being honest. So, when you receive a compliment, believe it, and take it for what it is: A verbal pat on the back. You did a good job, someone is acknowledging you for it, and you’re receiving an honor that’s well-deserved.
The harder part, of course, is learning exactly what to say. I’ve found that the easiest approach is to keep things short and sweet: A smile and a simple “thank you so much” works in most scenarios. Of course, feel free to elaborate, and definitely share the credit with others when it’s due—but resist the urge to downplay the compliment in any way. Seriously.
And if you find yourself at a loss for words, try these responses:
- For a job well done: “Thank you. I was hoping this was what you were looking for, and I really like it too.”
- For a speech, performance, article, or work of art: “Thank you. I really enjoy (writing, performing, speaking, whatever), and I’m glad you liked it!”
- For your help: “Thank you. I’m so glad that I could help.”
- If you caught a mistake that was missed by others: “Thanks for noticing. I’m glad I caught it, too.”
- In any other situation: “Thank you. I appreciate it!” Enough said.
Bottom line: You work hard, so why dismiss the great feedback that comes your way? You deserve it. Plus, the best thing about learning to accept compliments is that it’ll give you the chance to see yourself as others see you—which is probably pretty amazing.