Here are a few ways to accept a compliment:
“You look so nice today!”
“Oh, this. I got it at Goodwill – it was only $2!”
“This is such an excellent party.”
“Well, I can’t take credit. My husband did all the cooking…”
“That was a great presentation. I learned so much!”
“Oh, no, it was awful! I made so many mistakes. I was so nervous!”
Do any of these sound like you? When someone offers you a compliment or praise, do you squirm and redirect? Do you feel embarrassed or even ashamed of the attention? Do you wonder about the person’s motivations?
If so, you aren’t alone. This is something many women struggle with. I have struggled with it, too. At my daughter’s last birthday party, a good friend complimented me on the delicious cupcakes I had made. “Oh,” I said, “They’re just a box mix.” That was true, they were a box mix, but it was a low sugar, gluten free mix that I’d gone to two different stores to find, and I had spent my morning before the party piping the store-bought organic frosting into fancy swirled pillows on top of each cupcake. And she was right, they were delicious. I had completely downplayed my effort and accomplishment, and thoroughly rejected my friend’s praise.
My friend put her hand on my arm. “The correct answer,” she said, “is Thank you.”
Notice that none of three examples I started this article with include the words, “Thank you.” Those are not ways to take a compliment. These are ways to deflect a compliment. And yet, we have all responded that way to a compliment at one time or another, if not often.
Why do we deflect compliments?
That day of the birthday party, I deflected the cupcake compliment for two reasons. On one hand, I felt not good enough, not worthy of the praise. I was aware of the things I had planned to do for the party that had fallen by the wayside. I wanted to make those cupcakes from scratch. I wanted to decorate the house more and differently. I would have liked that party to look like something I’d seen on Pinterest, but looking around, all I could see were the ways I hadn’t been able to achieve my vision. I couldn’t take in a compliment about delicious cupcakes because they weren’t the cupcakes I’d envisioned. If only she’d eaten the cupcakes I had intended to make!
The other reason I deflected was because I felt embarrassed of the attention. Parties are hard for an introvert like me. So many people! So many voices all talking at the same time! So much small talk! I go into overwhelm, I feel awkward and tongue tied. When my friend commented on the cupcakes, two other women standing nearby paused their conversation and chimed in, “Yes, so good!” and then I had three people looking at me, waiting for a response. My subconscious mind threw up the first phrase it came up with to divert their attention to something, anything else. Look away, look away! Instead of basking in the glow of the compliment, I wanted out of the spotlight.
Identify your triggers
Think about the times you have deflected a compliment. What was going on for you in that moment?
- Were you at a loss for what to say?
- Did you feel embarrassed or put on the spot?
- Were you questioning the motives of the person complimenting you (“Does she really mean that?”)
- Did you feeling awkward about looking conceited or arrogant?
- Do you feel guilty because someone else also contributed to the thing you are being complimented for?
- Do you feel the urge to turn around and compliment the person right back – even if you have to really reach for something to say?
If you aren’t sure what is happening when you find yourself deflecting compliments, I can help! This is a great topic for a free 30-minute introductory session!
Why you need to change your compliment-deflecting ways – now.
A compliment is a gift. When you deflect, deny, bat it back, or ignore it, you are telling the other person that you don’t value their opinion, or their view of you. Consider this. If a friend said, “Isn’t the weather nice today?” and you responded, “Oh, no, it is just a bit too sunny and breezy for me,” wouldn’t that feel rude? So how is it different when someone tell you that you look nice, and you respond by disagreeing with them?
Also, consider that accepting a compliment is an exercise in standing firmly in your own self worth.
Yes, I am good at this.
Yes, I know how to make delicious and cute cupcakes, even out of boxed mixes.
I am worthy of praise and admiration.
Even if it is hard to stand firmly in those beliefs (especially that last one), every time you accept a compliment and really let it land, you are strengthening your own sense of self worth.
Four ways to gracefully accept a compliment
Smile. Resist that urge to study your toes and actually make eye contact. Maybe touch the person’s arm or hand. This person just gave you a gift. Really feel the generosity of that.
Have the right words
A simple “Thank you,” is a complete response, but you may want to say more. Add on to that a little bit by also saying, “I appreciate that!” or “That makes me feel really good.”
You can show that you are appreciative of the substance of the compliment by mirroring that part back: “I had great fun making them, and I’m glad you enjoyed them.” or “I’m so excited you noticed that – I’m really proud of it!” You can also acknowledge the effort you put into something: “Thank you, I worked really hard at that.”
Give credit where it is due
If you couldn’t have done something you are being complimented for without someone else’s help, it is fine to say so. Especially if the person complimenting you is one of the contributors! But instead of “batting it back” by saying something like, “Oh, really, Shawn deserves all the credit.” accept the compliment and pass it along: “Thank you! Shawn also put in so much effort and I’m sure he would love to hear your appreciation, too.”
Help move the conversation along
It is one thing to accept a compliment and another to know how to continue a conversation when you still feel awkward and self conscious about responding to one. You can use your response to steer the conversation on. For example, you can use a question: “Thank you! I got it when I was in Santa Fe. Have you ever been there?” You can connect more deeply with person’s interest: “I’m so glad you enjoyed the event. What did you enjoy the most?”
You don’t have to be arrogant or a jerk to take a compliment well – you just need a certain level of self-awareness and a few go-to responses in your back pocket. And the best news is that practicing taking compliments well makes you will make you into a more balanced, self-assured person, who is even more likely to earn more compliments. That’s a win-win!