I have a problem. I have a hard time taking a compliment.
And I know I’m not alone.
Someone will tell me something positive about myself or a project I worked on and my immediate response is to undercut it. I refuse to let it sink in. I don’t want to hear it. I won’t acknowledge that anything I’ve done might be worth celebrating. I deflect.
Like these ladies:
I don’t deflect because I have self-confidence issues. I don’t deflect because I dislike whatever I’m being complimented on. I don’t deflect because I think I don’t deserve it. I don’t know why I deflect. It probably has to do with the conditioned expectations of young woman in society that I’ve allowed to take over my better judgement. But that’s an article for another time.
The point is, not being able to take a compliment is a problem. And it should be corrected.
I’m not advocating that you get a big head and go around expecting people to constantly compliment every little thing you do. Keeping positive perspective and your own ego in check is always important. But so is allowing yourself to be acknowledged and praised.
I think there’s a power in learning how to graciously take a compliment. It’s like learning how to graciously take a gift. It’s not easy- and most people are uncomfortable when receiving anything. But learning simple gratitude is much more fulfilling for both you and the person who gives you the compliment.
So here are four simple I’ve come up with to practice becoming better at taking compliments. Choose the one that feels right for any given situation. And practice, practice, practice!
1. Smile, say thank you, and change the subject.
Simply acknowledge you’ve heard this person and appreciate the compliment, then move on in the conversation. If staying on the subject makes you uncomfortable or distracts from the subject matter at hand, then don’t feel like you need to discuss it further. Just appreciate that the person was trying to connect and make you feel good about some aspect of yourself or your work.
2. Smile, say thank you, and compliment them
Don’t force this one because people will see right through any falseness. But odds are, if someone gives you a compliment, it will make you feel good. And the natural response for most decent, empathetic human beings is to want to reciprocate that feeling. Find something you genuinely appreciate about the other person and point it out to them. Then move on. It doesn’t need to become a love fest. You’ve got work to do.
Unless it actually is a love fest. Then by all means, continue your rapid-fire back and forth compliments and carry on.
3. Smile, say thank you, and “yes, and…” them.
“Yes, and…” is concept improvisers are obsessed with. The idea being you agree with whatever was just said then expound upon it. Someone says they liked your last article, you say thank you and tell them how much fun it was to write. Someone says you had a great take while filming, you say thank you and tell them you really felt in the moment. Someone says you look pretty, you say thank you and tell them you have a crush on the guy who works at 7/11 and are trying to impress him.
It’s a way of showing that you heard the person and find so much validity in their statement, that it sparks further conversation and agreement on whatever they’re saying. It makes them feel good for being acknowledged and validated, and it makes you feel good for getting to discuss something you’re genuinely proud of.
4. Smile and say thank you.
This is the hardest one, but possibly the most powerful. Like the sketch above from Inside Amy Schumer (a hilarious show, by the way), people almost expect you to cut yourself down. Yet some of the most confident, productive, and powerful people we admire in this world don’t do that at all.
Can you imagine the Dalai Lama responding to a compliment with, “Oh, don’t listen to me, I don’t even know what I’m talking about.” Or President Obama responding with, “I’m not even that good of an orator. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m like a ball of nerves up there just hoping nobody notices.” We expect apologies from ourselves yet admire the unapologetic self-confidence in others.
So aspire to be admired. And learn how to take a compliment.
Or, of course, you can do what one of the girls in the sketch does and light yourself on fire. It’s up to you.