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Day 19 - Learn How to Take a Compliment, Rockstar!

Level 9

Accepting a compliment seems like a small thing in the context of the many, many things I could have done better if I knew more when I was younger, but I’m a big believer of small changes reaping big rewards. It’s also a topic that’s front of mind for me as I work on modeling constructive behavior to my daughter, who pays closer attention to what I do than what I say.

I know this isn’t only a female issue, but I’m going to speak to it with that lens as it’s what I know. Society has a way of sending not just mixed, but unhelpful messages to girls. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Properly accepting a compliment is one example. Women constantly get the message that we must always be modest, and accepting a compliment makes us appear arrogant or cocky. So instead, we:

•             Deny: “I wish that were true” or the equivalent of “This old thing?” to a comment on your outfit.   

•             Downplay: “I didn’t do that well. (Goes into list of things I could have done better).”

•             Deflect: “Actually, (insert name) is much better at (whatever) than me.”

But why does agreeing with someone make you cocky? I’d like to tell my former self that by giving in to those ridiculous reflexes, I was not only refusing the praise, I was negating it altogether. With my awkward attempts to be humble, I was broadcasting a message that I was timid and lacked confidence, and that the person trying to give the compliment was just plain wrong. This reflex probably topped off at irritating in my personal life, but absolutely hurt me in the workplace. “Former self,” I would say, “Knock it off. Here comes some advice.”

•             Just say thank you! It’s simple, appropriate, and easy to do, even when tongue-tied.

•             If you want to say more, focus on things such as acknowledging the work behind the achievement. But be careful not to hand the whole thing back or to someone else.       

•             Share the compliment. Almost any accomplishment is in some way a team effort. Making sure those that had a part share in your success is a fantastic way to strengthen relationships.

I’m not done with my former self yet. Former self, you also need to check your body language, as it can contradict your words. I’ve worked in male-dominated fields for many years. I’ve had hundreds of wonderful co-workers. But unfortunately, I’ve been in handful of awful situations that made me want to make myself small and unnoticed. Younger Kathleen, don’t let the exception, the few, steal your opportunity to shine. Stand up straighter, uncross those arms, make eye contact, and assume those kudos are deserved and the intentions behind them are pure.

Graciously accepting a compliment is an easy way to demonstrate self-assurance, and, as a woman I admire once told me, to own your success. I’ve worked hard throughout my career, and I’m good at what I do. When people notice and offer praise, it’s deserved. Acknowledging that does not make me a narcissist. It shows I can appreciate a win and sends the message that I’m capable of more.

While I can’t really go back and influence Kathleen of the past, I can focus on doing this right today and going forward. Hopefully, my daughter—who is the closest I’ll get to my younger self—will notice and grow up feeling comfortable receiving the praise I know she will deserve. To me, that would be even better than a time machine.

43 Comments
Level 11

Accepting praise and a compliment is something I especially find hard, and will always downplay it, or make the comparison of "I'm not as good as..."  It's easier to deal with criticism, than praise.  But I guess they're both learning opportunities.

MVP
MVP

As above, I also find it hard to accept praise or a compliment and try to downplay it. Thanks for the advice on how to potentially deal with that situation.

It is also great to see that you're using this as a opportunity to be a better role model for your daughter. Sometimes it can be difficult to avoid passing on negative habits to the younger generations and if we can limit that, the better!

Level 13

Great advice, and I wish I was better at it myself because I'm absolutely guilty of it.  I try to remind myself that downplaying it is also somewhat insulting to the person offering the compliment, but it's still hard to do.

Great advise.   IT can be a thankless job.  We know what we did saved time, money, efficiency, etc.  many do not see it or take for granted things which we might make look or seem easy.   Sometimes the compliment seems fake or strange since we rarely get one.   I strive to make sure my employees know they are appreciated, and it is nice to receive compliments.  So I know i always say thank you, if they are sarcastic or not. 

Level 15

Great advice, bookmarked to share with my daughter tonight

I've been in awe of her strength and passion for everything she does, and as she has turned 5, I can see that she's going to be "bossy" (read: future leader). I'm both proud and apprehensive as I want to prepare her for the toxicity that currently exists in the workplace (and life in general) towards people who don't cower in front of certain personalities. I appreciate the thoughts and sharing of experiences.

Also, can we all admit it's a load of flaming garbage that women's clothing has no freaking usable pockets?!?!?!?! I cannot express how hard it is to explain to a 5yo that her pretty dress is not currently equipped for the frogs and snakes she wants to carry around. </rant>

Level 9

I too don't take compliments well.  As I have aged I have learned to smile, say thank you, and not let it go to my head.  I try to take it for what it is.  Someone felt I did something good and helpful. 

Talking to people is so much less awkward if you can just learn to genuinely receive feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is difficult for a lot of IT professionals, since our personality types tend to be more reserved and introverted. Our department went through an exercise on feedback a year or so ago and it's changed the way we work together, for the better!

Level 10

Great article!  I have a daughter, and I always try to remind her that she can do anything she puts her mind to!

Recently, she was nervous to ask Santa for a basketball, because it was a 'boy present'.  I showed her a few WNBA videos on YouTube and pointed out how awesome those women were - she was so excited!  Now, "Santa" is bringing her a basketball for Christmas...

Level 9

YES on the pockets.  I have ranted about that countless times myself, though I don't have the need to transport as many snakes and frogs these days.   

Level 9

Kids really are a mirror, to the good and the bad.  My goal is to make my little 2.0 faster, and with less bugs!

Level 13

We live in the shadows.  Our compliant is "it working and no one is calling about a problem"

Level 14

Thanks for the article...I don't think this is something necessarily specific to anyone person or anything, but I can understand the perceptions created by societal standards for sure.  Humility is a tricky subject.  When you're paid a compliment, should you accept it and tout it? Should you extent the compliment others?  The answer can be a bit blurry.  I think if you're honest about it, that is the most important thing to remember.  Never assume you're the smartest person around, or that you're always right.  If you remember this, then you can graciously accept any compliment that is given to you without fear of pride and arrogance tripping you up in the future.  I agree with nickzourdos​ as well...you have to always take the bad with the good.  I tend to get in my own way and over indulge in self reflection, so when my boss tells me something I need to work on, I tend to toss it around in my head much more than is necessary.  IMO self analysis is much more beneficial when you're focusing on how you an improve, rather than how good you already are.  My problem is that I tend to get stuck on my own faults, which can actually lead to downplaying compliments that come my way sometimes. 

Great discussions that are being started in these posts!

Level 9

Good points.  I decided years ago to just assume it's a compliment and not overanalyze (hard for me as I could compete at the Olympic level if that were a sport).  Even if it's not, I don't want to accept the negativity I'm being handed so a thank you can return that to sender.  But I also think in most situations, people are sincere.   

Level 9

Sports are so good for girls!  Keep it up dad!

Level 9

Excellent advice and article.  This should be a required discussion with all school-aged girls (and boys)....

Awesome article, kwalker​, and I very much appreciate the position you, and your daughter, were - and are- in.  It is unfortunate that women throughout history have had to deal with "stereotypes" and a "male-dominated society", and I applaud all women who stand up for what they want and defend who they are.  (c.f. the movie "Joy")

Society tells women "Do this, don't do that!", "Be a size zero or don't BE!", "You need to 'pretty up' for the boys!", all of which is absolute HOGWASH!  I think that when a compliment is genuinely intended to be just that - complimentary - it is in everyone's best interest to do as you mentioned: simply say "thank you".  Nothing more (or less) is needed.  Even if your internal dialog does not agree with the compliment, the other person is offering it to you for a reason, again as long as it is genuine.

Having gone through my younger years with a raging ego in tow, and having dropped it (for the most part) along the way, I have learned that it's not about me. So these days, if someone gives me a compliment, I point straight up because I could not do it without His help.  And if I am part of a team, I share the compliment with them...in fact I would rather they get the kudos.  But if someone tells me, "Hey, I really enjoyed your playing/music!" I smile, say "Thank you", and immediately follow up with "All to His glory."  Not to get too preachy on you, folks, but I know from where my talent comes.

One final thought to the fellows out there: be mindful and sensitive if offering compliments to ladies in Corporate America.  While your heart might be in the right place, you don't know their situation.

"And that's all I've got to say about that." (Forrest Gump)

You hit it in one try:  Say "Thank you" and move on.

Simple works best.  Direct is efficient. 

And learning what's "standard" versus "proper" isn't a bad solution, either.  Folks have a minor disagreement about what an appropriate response is to something as simple as a "Thank you."  You can't go wrong with "You're welcome" and moving on.  But you might not make as good an impression with "No worries" or "Yup!" or "It's nothing.'

"You're welcome" is what manners require, the other answers are not.  They're simply alternates and examples of not having the same training, or forgetting the manners one's parents taught (or should-have taught), or being surrounded by people who are using answers other than "thank you" and "you're welcome."

Those two are simplest.  Let's stick to them and move on.

kwalker​ Thank you very much for sharing this side of you.

I have a special needs 11 yo daughter who has self-confidence issues. And me, as her dad, has come to the realization that what I have been doing to try to build her self-confidence all these years may have been counterproductive. (I didn't know. No one ever gave me a manual on this) Graciousness and politeness are areas that I feel that I, along with my wife, have done a pretty good with and she does respond with a sheep-ish "thank you" to a compliment.

One thing I have learned from being a parent to a daughter is all that nonsense in the movies about "spunky kids" is mostly BS.

Level 9

Thoughtful and intuitive post, thanks Kwalker!

Level 12

I need be better at both, giving a compliment and taking them.

Level 9

This is a good point.  I'm going to make sure to compliment our IT team more. 

I hear you on the pockets. I paid to have a tailor put pockets into my step daughters wedding dress. We were fortunate enough to get a large scarf of the same material as her dress and the tailor did a wonderful job incorporating them.

P.S. I used tailor even though it was a woman, because seamstress just seems degrading to her skills if you ask me.Like she only worked on seams!

I too have had difficulty in the past accepting compliments. Interestingly enough when I started graciously accepting others picking up the tab for dinner, lunch, or coffee I also changed how I accept compliments. I used to push back and say "No, no, I can get mine." or "No, no, let me get that." I realized that was like refusing a birthday gift. It tells the giver your gift wasn't good enough. Now I just say Thank you, Grazie Mille, etc.

I am learning how to be a Great Uncle to my niece's girls and I hope I get to teach them this. The distance makes it harder, but my wife and I try to help their mom as best we can.

Level 14

I was brought up to not seek praise for doing a good job or the right thing. It's tough to say thanks and smile. Like Tom I am learning...

This old dog is learning new tricks...

Having come into a ready-made family, and also being a business professional, I have learned that there are two very simple truths, both in business and in life: Kids and directs will do half of what you do and twice what you don't!

Level 10

Great words!   I tended to be the same way early on in life and as I have grown older, I have learned that I need to be more complimentary towards others as they have done to me.   We have to become humble on how we are and pass that knowledge along.

Taking/giving compliments could also be a regional thing. There is a proverb in the region where I am from: „Not complaining is enough for compliments“

Where I am living now, they say „This is OK“ is one of the biggest compliments to make.

yes, southern Germany is not big on making and taking compliments.

It took a long time for me to be able to just say Thank you when a kind word is said. I also try to make sure that the praise com,es from me whenever possible. Recognition builds better teams.

Du hast rechts, HerrDoktor​.  I had the privilege of travelling to Korea in the late 80's and one thing we were told on the plane ride over (I don't know if it stil is applicable or not) was that not only was it acceptible to belch while gustating your meal, it was considered a high compliment to the chef.  One man's trash is another man's treasure, I guess.

Level 10

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Level 11

Thanks for a great read!

Many good points...I'm also trying to remember that I need to give compliments more frequently, because deep down people do like to be noticed for good work.

Level 12

Dilbert

Compliments... I think I've heard of them.

Level 7

I've never been very good at accepting compliments, it is an artform in itself and like all skills, need to be exercised and practiced.  Try complimenting others and use the best results as your own, adding them to your catalog of grace and charm.  You deserve it. 

Level 12

How compliments are stated effects the way I take them. Lots of times I feel as though they are sarcasm rather than stating sometime nice about you.

Level 11

Great advice! Very well written.  I understand that can be a touchy subject so I appreciate that you were able to be so open. Thank you!

Level 9

That's fair, but I think most times intentions are good - at least I hope so.  It could be awkwardness, not sarcasm.  I know I've been guilty of flubbing the delivery of a sincere compliment. 

Level 9

I still struggle with this

And if someone is using sarcasm, desr​, try to look passed the intent and take it as a compliment anyway!  I have known people whose personality is inherently sardonic in nature, and when they try to back-handed slap me with a sarcastic comment, I smile and say "Thank you for the compliment! I really appreciate that! :-)" and really MEAN IT. That positively drives them crazy because their intent was totally deflated and deflected.  They usually turn around and walk away.

The only way sarcasm affects you is if you allow it to.  You ARE a ROCKSTAR, desr​, and don't allow anyone to try and convince you otherwise!!

Level 9

My wife pointed out a few years ago that I almost always reply to "Thanks" with "No problem" or "Not a big deal".  She argued that these responses trivialize my contributions to the company.  It took almost 6 months to retrain myself to just say "You're welcome".

MVP
MVP

Speaking as a man who when phoning his wife will answer in less than half the calls placed mostly due to the simple fact that women's clothes do not have pockets and therefore phones get left on tables, chairs and anywhere that is not directly attached to her body.

MVP
MVP

on the flip side of this excellent advice to your younger self, is how the person giving the compliment feels. There are many reasons people give compliments; to ingratiate themselves (think first date!), as an ice breaker to conversation, to deliberately instil self-esteem in someone and because you damned well deserved it.

That person themselves will benefit from acceptance and acknowledgement of giving out a compliment.

Level 14

I always answer a compliment with "Thank you.  I put a lot of effort into that and I'm pleased that it was appreciated".  Replace I with we if it was a team effort.  Works even better if the compliment was sarcastic because it makes the other person feel like a tool.

Level 20

Sharing the compliment with the team is the best advice.  You can't go wrong with team.