Everyone craves praise, but to accept a compliment with grace is an almost universal challenge. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re eager to receive a compliment — especially from someone you admire — but aren’t sure what to say in response.
Many people downplay compliments to avoid the appearance of conceit. It’s so common that sociolinguists have categorized the three responses to a compliment: acceptance, deflection or rejection. Rather than humbly accept or outright reject the kind words, individuals often choose to deflect or dilute the compliment.
You may be tempted to respond with denial or self-insult. It’s easy to say something like, “Thank you, but I really wasn’t that helpful,” or “Thanks, but I’ve had this outfit for 10 years; it’s practically falling apart!” Others ask for additional reassurance: “Really? I felt like I completely botched the speech.”
Though you may feel as if you’re responding appropriately, it only undermines the compliment or insults the giver. When you devalue a compliment, you can send the message that you have a low self-esteem, aren’t confident in your work or don’t respect the opinion of the person who gave you the praise.
If you frequently respond negatively to a compliment, retrain yourself to show gratitude. Here are seven ways to accept a compliment with humility and grace.
1. Express your gratitude. Any time you receive a compliment, reply with “Thank you.” It’s a simple, but powerful phrase. The person bestowing the compliment will be most receptive to a humble response. Say something like, “Thank you, that’s very kind of you,” or “Thank you, I appreciate the compliment.”
2. Share the credit. If the compliment is in regards to a team effort, acknowledge the contributions of your colleagues. Some powerful executives reach a point where they no longer publicly recognize or give credit to those who helped them succeed. This is the quickest way to lose friends. Instead, share your positive feelings. Respond with something such as, “We all put in a lot of effort; thank you for acknowledging our hard work.”
3. Receive awards with your left hand. If you’re honored for a professional accomplishment in a ceremony, always accept the plaque, trophy or certificate with your left hand. This will leave your right hand free to shake hands with the person who presented the award and those who would like to congratulate you.
4. Use appropriate body language. If you’re uncomfortable or nervous, your nonverbal cues may give the wrong impression. Don’t cross your arms or appear disinterested. Instead, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward and engage those around you with warm facial expressions. Enjoy your moment of praise.
5. Never undermine the compliment. Receive every compliment with unassuming gratitude. Avoid phrases like, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” or “Thanks, but it was nothing.” When you downplay a compliment, you may feel that you’re showing humility. Instead, it may make the person who gave you the compliment feel personally rejected.
6. Avoid a compliment battle. Especially when a compliment comes from someone you respect and admire, you may feel the inclination to “out-compliment” or downplay your work. This may be appropriate in Asia, but not in the U.S. Fight the urge to one-up someone’s sincere praise. Don’t say something like, “Thank you, but we know my input wasn’t nearly as valuable as yours.” Instead, embrace the moment and be grateful for the accolade.
7. Follow appropriate etiquette. If you’re the subject of a toast, adhere to proper protocol. The recipients of toasts do not drink at the end of the speech — think how awkward it would be to sing “Happy Birthday” at your own party. Instead, nod your head and smile, give everyone a chance to have a sip of their beverage and then offer a return toast.
When someone pays you a compliment, such as praising you for a job well done or acknowledging a unique talent you have, it’s supposed to feel good, right? After all, Karen Donaldson, a certified confidence coach and communication and body language expert, says we all seek recognition and want to know we’re appreciated. However, being on the receiving end of a compliment can feel downright uncomfortable for many. So, as a result, "we dismiss it, deny it, downplay it, change the subject altogether, or simply shut it down," Donaldson says.
According to Tess Brigham, a psychotherapist and certified life coach, low self-worth is a big reason why receiving a compliment can be challenging to accept and believe. "This is referred to as cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort experienced when two thoughts or ideas or values are incompatible with each other, i.e., holding two distinct beliefs," she explains. "If you don’t believe in yourself and your ability to do something when someone compliments or praises you, then it’s impossible for you to accept the compliment or praise because you don’t believe it to be true."
Thankfully, even if compliments make you cringe, there are things you can do to strengthen your receiving muscle and build up your self-worth. Donaldson says it is safe to shine, and learning how to accept a compliment with grace demonstrates self-confidence. Here’s how to start.
Own Your Value
“Our culture teaches young people, especially young women, to be modest and demure and that it’s bad to be ‘full of yourself,’” Brigham says. “So when someone compliments you it can feel like you’re making a ‘mistake’ by not deflecting or making up a reason why you really don’t deserve any praise.”
To this, Donaldson’s advice is to let go of modesty and the fear of outshining others and know that accepting a compliment doesn’t make you come off as conceited. “There’s no need to downplay the great things that you do well or who you are,” she says. “It’s OK to be really good at something and know it. Be good. Be great. Be incredible. Own it.”
Don’t Interrupt The Compliment
Donaldson also advises against brushing off a kind word as if it’s no big deal. A compliment, however small, she says, is a big deal, and it’s important to acknowledge it and allow the person to express their gratitude towards you or what you’ve done without interrupting them by saying it was nothing. Instead, when someone is commending you, Donaldson recommends actively listening and receiving the praise.
Just Say Thank You
Sometimes, Donaldson says, the uncomfortable feeling that comes up when receiving praise isn’t triggered by the comment itself but rather by not knowing how to best respond. The best approach, she says, is to keep it super simple with a "thank you" or “I appreciate it."
Beyond that, there’s no need to share an excuse or deflect a compliment. Doing so can impact your sense of self-worth. "If every time someone compliments you, you make an excuse, that belief gets stronger and more powerful because it’s your current reality,” Brigham says. “By stopping yourself from making an excuse or a reason why you don’t deserve the praise, you’re practicing not only how to receive praise, but also challenging your negative beliefs about yourself."
Challenge Your Negative Thinking
"The most powerful voice is the voice inside your head, which means, if you’re not loving and kind towards yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says to you," Brigham says. This is one of the biggest reasons why it can feel uncomfortable to receive a compliment for some people.
To remedy this, Brigham recommends becoming more aware of the negative things you say to yourself regularly and replacing them with words you’d speak to someone you love and care about. For instance, she shares, if you catch yourself thinking you’re stupid for making a mistake, stop and think what you would say to a loved one in the same scenario and say that to yourself.
Practice Praising Yourself
Getting comfortable receiving compliments from other people begins with getting comfortable praising yourself. "Each time you do something you’re proud of, take a moment and commend yourself on a job well-done," Brigham says. "It’s really important to celebrate our wins for our sense of self and to help stay motivated and excited to take on new challenges."
See It As A Benefit For Both Parties
Lastly, it can also be helpful to look at the compliment from the giver’s perspective too. Donaldson points out that fully receiving praise is an opportunity for both you and the person paying you a compliment to feel good. "When someone expresses or receives gratitude, the happy hormones — serotonin and dopamine — are released," she explains. So you undermining the compliment or brushing it off as if it was nothing, robs you both of that joy.
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Compliments on a job well done are a good thing, right? Yet, for whatever reason, many of us struggle to accept them in a way that doesn’t involve tons of awkward fumbling and shifty eye contact.
As wonderful as praise might be, it can be a little uncomfortable when you’re on the receiving end of it. You don’t want to make it seem like you’re taking an exaggerated bow and encouraging even more people to fawn all over you. But, at the same time, you don’t want to pass off that recognition as nothing either.
So, what do you do? Take a cue from those people who are so poised and confident, they make accepting compliments look easy. Here’s how they pull it off.
1. They Say “Thank You”
I know—this first point seems obvious. We’re all trained from an early age to express gratitude when someone else says or does something nice. But, pay close attention and you’ll be surprised at how often you’re tempted to skip saying “Thank you” in favor of immediately steering the conversation to something different.
Yes, you might be breaking into a cold sweat at the very idea of having all of the attention focused on you. However, resist that urge to hurriedly jump out of that spotlight so that you can at least offer a genuine response.
What This Looks Like: “Thanks, Josh. Your comment made my day!”
2. They Don’t Argue
As good-natured and well-intentioned as they are, compliments often make us feel like attention-seeking egomaniacs. And, in an effort to demonstrate that we’re not totally in love with ourselves, we respond to praise with some sort of self-deprecating statement.
If someone praises a recent project you completed, you say it was no big deal. If someone says you knocked a presentation out of the park, you say you thought it could’ve gone better. If someone compliments your sweater, you say it looked better on the mannequin.
But, undermining other people’s comments isn’t doing you any favors—and it’s only going to make your conversational partner feel pressured to continue saying nice things about you in an attempt to pad your ego. So, soak up that recognition when it’s given and just enjoy it. You may not believe it, but you deserve it.
What This Looks Like: “Thanks so much, Susan. I worked really hard on that presentation, so it’s great to hear that you think it went well!”
3. They Avoid Shifting the Spotlight
Here’s another thing that’s tempting to do: When someone says something kind, you feel the need to bounce one right back.
Before you know it, you’re stuck in this seemingly endless game of compliment ping-pong—which sounds fun in theory, but actually isn’t. Compliments that are paid immediately after you yourself have been praised always seem disingenuous anyway, so your conversational partner likely won’t even take your acknowledgement to heart.
Make your best effort to avoid immediately shifting the spotlight to someone else. While you can (and should!) recognize when certain things were a team effort, don’t feel the need to immediately move the focus away from you.
What if you feel completely uncomfortable and are desperate for the conversation to change course? Consider asking a question, instead of spitting out some halfhearted praise of your own.
What This Looks Like: “Thank you, Max. I’m relieved everything with that project went well! Hey, how did everything go with your big client meeting yesterday afternoon?”
4. They Take it to Heart
When presented with a sincere comment, you can probably manage to at least paste on a smile, squeak out a quick, “Thank you!”, and then move on with your day. But, confident people? They take things a step further—they actually reflect on and then believe the praise that was offered.
It’s easy to think that people have ulterior motives or some sort of secret agenda when they recognize your hard work. However, have you ever stopped to think that maybe you’re getting good feedback because you really just did an awesome job?
So, don’t just hear compliments, actually listen to them and take them to heart (no, that doesn’t make you an arrogant narcissist). Not only will those kind words brighten your day, but they will also boost your confidence—meaning you’ll feel that much more comfortable the next time you’re faced with praise.
Having someone say awesome things about you to your face can be a great thing, but that doesn’t mean being on the receiving end of them is easy. It can often feel like you’re walking a fine line between seeming like a total egomaniac and being so hard on yourself that your conversational partner wants to send you away with all of the self-help books money can buy.
Fortunately, confident people can walk that fine line with ease. Adopt one (or all) of their strategies, and you’ll no longer need to cringe when presented with praise.
The art of taking a compliment
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I love to shower my friends with compliments. It’s a quick and genuine way to show that I care about and admire them as individuals. However, when it comes to accepting compliments, I get pretty awkward.
In the past, when people complimented me, my natural reaction was to make a derpy face before trying to brush off their praise with an awkward laugh.
It’s not that I hate validating statements; it’s more that I don’t know how to respond in a way that properly communicates how I appreciate their praise while also staying #humble.
I never thought too much about my default reaction—until I started noticing how I felt when friends rejected my compliments towards them.
If you think about it, compliments are like small presents from a friend. If you made a face or brushed off the present, how do you think your friend would feel? By changing how we view compliments, we can find ways to give and receive them with less awkwardness.
So, if your natural response is to nervously laugh off compliments that come your way, below are some simple things you can try saying instead—to receive compliments with more grace!
“Oh, that was nothing.”
Have you ever used that phrase when a friend congratulated you on an accomplishment? This response can make it seem like you’re undermining their compliment and could possibly make your friend feel like they’ve been rejected.
Instead, consider saying, “Thank you! That’s really nice of you to say.”
Know your worth—your friend is acknowledging your effort and accomplishments, so don’t devalue or undercut their opinions. Even if you don’t see what you’ve done as a major achievement, accepting congratulations and praise can be motivating. It doesn’t hurt to celebrate the little victories as well!
And pass on the praise, too. Relationships thrive when we celebrate the growth of our friends, and not just ourselves (like this guy).
“No, you’re so much better than me at this.”
As an act of humility, you might be tempted to belittle yourself when, for example, you’re in a professional environment and a colleague expresses admiration for your skill or talent. But, again, know your worth!
Responding with the above might also put the compliment giver in an uncomfortable situation of having to deflect your praise.
Try saying, “That means a lot coming from you!”
Not only have you thanked them, but you’ve shown that you acknowledge their opinion as someone whom you respect and admire. This is also another way to avoid going into a “compliment battle” where both sides are just throwing possibly half-hearted compliments at each other.
“That was all just luck,” or “This was all _____’s work and not mine at all.”
When other people are involved in your accomplishments, it’s easy to credit someone else when you feel uncomfortable in the spotlight.
Instead, respond with, “Thanks! I appreciate that, I’ll tell _____ as well.”
Accepting praise and sharing it with those involved will help you build a community of supportive friends. When we can openly talk about what we admire about the other person and receive the same in return, we empower both them and ourselves.
Don’t be afraid to call out your friends if they’re rejecting your compliments. I’m sure they’ll appreciate your effort, or at least know they can comfortably discuss being awkward about praise with you.