“Wow – you’re amazing!”
Words to make you glow with pride….Or shrink into a tiny ball of embarrassment?
If accepting compliments makes you cringe a little (or a lot), you might be surprised to know you’re not alone.
Over the years a few researchers have explored our reaction to compliments. Way back in 1990, one study found that women only accepted compliments 40% of the time – except when they were given by other women when the figure dropped to 22%.
However, men accepted compliments 52% of the time, irrespective of who gave them.
The rest of the time the study participants reflected the compliment back; minimised what they’d done; or deflected it onto someone else like a co-worker.
Why do we find it hard to accept a compliment?
1. Many of us find it hard to accept praise
Although it seems counter-intuitive, many of us find it hard to accept praise. It might be because we’re suffering from “Imposter Syndrome” and secretly feel as though we’re not really qualified to be in our roles.
After all, if you think that you are where you are because of luck or fluke, it’s understandable that being praised might feel uncomfortable. Inside, a part of you might be thinking “You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew how incompetent I really am!”
2. A lack of trust in others
Many of us have been taught to mistrust or compete with others – especially when going through and graduating from a course as competitive as Veterinary Science.
Or perhaps you’ve had difficult experiences in the past and so are quick to assume that others are out to undermine you. You feel suspicious of praise, wondering if it’s genuine or an attempt at manipulation.
3. Our personal relationship with success
A third reason we can find accepting praise difficult is because of our personal relationship to success. For example, you might have been brought up in a family in which people who were “too big for their boots” or “think they’re better than us” were routinely criticised.
“Tall poppy syndrome” refers to the wider cultural tendency to want to “bring down” people perceived to stand out due to their success.
So what can you do about it?
These are just three of a whole range of reasons why being praised can feel so uncomfortable. Spend a few minutes journaling or thinking about how you respond to praise and answer these questions:
How would you react to a compliment from your boss? A colleague? Your partner? A friend?
Are your responses different in different contexts?
What does that tell you about who you are?
Why accepting compliments matters
If it’s common for you to want to deflect or avoid praise, you might wonder why it’s so important to learn to accept compliments. Isn’t it a good thing to be humble and support others?
Let me explain.
Internally each of us has specific strengths we can draw on when we need to – and it’s practising to accept with humility what others think of us when we practice the art of receiving that helps us to have internal balance and true self-confidence.
When we are praised for our wisdom, skill or even personal appearance, the truly internally well-balanced person doesn’t say “Don’t be silly, it was nothing” as that would gravely insult the gift that has just been received.
Instead, s/he receives the compliment graciously. Entirely in balance and with confidence s/he thanks them wholeheartedly.
Receiving compliments allows you to connect with your own true nature. Strange as it may seem, if you can learn to receive compliments, then you might also find that your power around making choices, avoiding procrastination, and trusting your own judgment expands too.
How do you accept a compliment?
Really, that’s all it takes!
Of course, you can explore other ways to really absorb the praise you’re receiving. If you tend to deflect by minimising your effort – “Oh, this old thing?” or “It really didn’t take long” then you might want to try acknowledging the energy you’ve put in.
For example, if a friend praises your outfit you might say “Thank you. I really love the colour of this scarf, it always makes me smile.”
Or if a senior colleague comments on a surgery, “Thank you. I’ve been focusing on improving my surgical skills lately – so I’m glad it landed.”
If you tend to give credit to others, you can continue to do that. Just make sure you accept your part too: “Thank you. I really appreciated Alice’s input on the data.”
And if your instinct is to instantly praise them (“Oh, it’s not nearly as good as yours”) then why not hold back for a moment? Savour your own success – and make a mental note to praise them the next time you’re impressed.
A compliment challenge
This week, my challenge to you is this:
1. When someone praises you, try simply saying “Thank you” in return.
2. Compliment someone else this week – and observe how they respond.
Everyone CAN enjoy a good compliment – but sometimes we need to learn HOW….