Can’t Take A Compliment? How to Accept Praise More Gracefully
Do you have difficulty accepting compliments? Many of us feel uncomfortable receiving praise because we don’t want to appear egotistical and arrogant. Yet, learning to do so graciously can enhance your executive presence and relationships with others. Here are five ways to respond to compliments more gracefully.
Do you like being praised? Who doesn’t appreciate being told “great job!” or “you look fabulous!" every now and then? So why do so many of us have trouble accepting compliments?
I experienced first-hand how difficult this can be. I participated in an exercise where I exchanged compliments with another person for a solid 2 minutes. When I was on the receiving end, I wasn't allowed to say a word. It was excruciating – I wanted it to stop! It was a real eye-opener for me as I sat with the awkwardness and discomfort of being the focus of someone’s praise.
How about you? When someone compliments you, do you accept it gracefully or brush it aside? Consider the following responses to hearing, "You did a great job on the presentation!" Do you see yourself responding in any of the following ways:
I don't know about that? It wasn’t my best work.
Do you think so? Everyone seemed bored.
Yours was great too!
Thanks, but the credit goes to my colleagues.
If any of these resonate, you are likely dismissing and diminishing compliments more often than you realize.
Not being able to take a compliment reflects an inability to acknowledge what makes you talented and unique. It's also a signal to others that you feel unworthy and insecure. This undermines your influence and gets in the way of your executive presence and leadership potential. Because if you don’t appear to believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
Why It's So Difficult to Accept Compliments
It can be hard to know how to respond to compliments without coming across as egotistical and arrogant. By acknowledging their praise, we fear others might think, "Wow, she’s got a big head – she thinks very highly of herself!"
Not surprisingly, research has shown that women have a more challenging time accepting compliments than men, especially when the praise is from another woman. This is partly due to cultural expectations that women should always appear modest and self-effacing – especially with other women.
You may also be more apt to rebuff a compliment if it contradicts how you see yourself. If you struggle with low self-esteem or impostor syndrome, you probably don’t view yourself as positively as others do. So when someone says, "You did a great job at the meeting today,” you second-guess their sincerity, especially if you believe you bombed. Instead of seeing it as a form of validation, you chalk it up to mere flattery.
How to Receive Compliments More Gracefully
If you’re anything like me, you probably appreciate the temporary ego boost compliments provide. But they can also make you feel awkward because you don’t know how best to respond. If so, next time you find yourself the beneficiary of someone’s acclaim, try responding in one of the following (more graceful) ways:
1. Just Say "Thank You"
Can you imagine refusing to receive a gift from someone you care about? Well, that's essentially what you are doing when you reject a compliment. Not only does it make you seem ungrateful, but it is also insulting and dismissive to the person offering the praise.
My mother taught me that the most gracious way to accept a gift I didn’t expect (or want) is just to say "thank you" and zip it! This applies to receiving compliments as well. There is no need to expand or qualify your response; however, including, “thank you, I appreciate the acknowledgment” or “thank you, it means a lot coming from you” can more deeply convey your gratitude.
2. Share What Their Compliment Means to You
While a simple "thank you" can usually do the trick, it has more impact when you express what the compliment means to you. Does it validate you? Does it reassure you? If so, tell them! When a coaching client compliments me on helping them achieve their goals, I often share how their comment affirms that I’m following my true passion and purpose to help empower others.
Being recognized in this way is also validating for the other person. So if you receive a compliment on how great your presentation was, don’t tell them you thought the attendees seemed bored. Instead, share how their feedback provides reassurance. “Thank you. I appreciate you giving me that feedback because it was difficult to gauge the audience’s interest over Zoom today.”
3. Acknowledge Others without Diminishing Yourself
As the lead attorney for her litigation team, Jenna is praised for her leadership role in winning one of her firm’s major cases. Yet, rather than acknowledging her role, she credits the group instead, “Oh, it’s not because of me. The team deserves all the credit.”
Sometimes accepting a compliment that is part of a team effort feels selfish and even disloyal. However, in our desire to acknowledge others, sometimes we unintentionally diminish our role and contributions. This can significantly undermine our leadership influence and potential.
You can and should recognize the efforts of others, but first, accept the compliment yourself. “Thanks. I'm proud of the win and grateful to the whole team. I'll be sure to share your congratulations with them as well."
4. Stop Putting Yourself Down
Do you ever put yourself down after receiving a compliment? Recently, I observed a female colleague being publicly recognized for landing a prestigious role. Rather than acknowledging her achievement, she responded, "Oh, I have no idea why they selected me. I was probably the least qualified candidate for this role.”
Public praise can make us feel vulnerable to the judgment of others. So by preemptively criticizing ourselves, we try to beat others to the punch. Yet, making self-deprecating comments can make you appear self-doubting and needy. It may seem like you are fishing for more compliments as others undoubtedly jump in to reassure you.
Instead of diminishing your achievements to avoid being in the spotlight, accept that you are deserving of their accolades. Acknowledge your achievements with gratitude and humility with a more gracious response: “Thank you. I feel honored to be selected among so many deserving candidates.”
5. Don't Feel Obligated to Reciprocate
Do you have that friend or family member who can’t receive a favor or gift without the need to reciprocate? Isn't it annoying? People who genuinely enjoy giving don’t always expect you to return the favor. Doing so can diminish the satisfaction they get from the gesture. In the same way, immediately reciprocating a compliment belittles the acknowledgment and denies others the opportunity to express their appreciation of you.
So if someone compliments you on your new hairstyle, resist the urge to reciprocate with, “Well, your hair looks great too!” Instead, thank them for noticing. Then convey what it means to you: "Thank you for saying so. It's a new look for me, so I appreciate the reassurance!”
Want to Accept Praise More Gracefully?
Receiving compliments more gracefully can be difficult at first, but it's a learnable skill that can enhance your relationships and influence with others. So next time someone offers you a compliment, pay attention to how you respond. Do you automatically deflect or diminish it without even realizing it? Most likely, it’s just a bad habit that can be broken. Similar to the tendency to over apologize, greater awareness of this self-limiting behavior is the first step to changing it.
Do you want to enhance your influence and personal power? If so, contact me or schedule a 30-min consultation call with me to learn how coaching can help you "get out of your own way" to achieve your goals and realize your full potential.
Jill Lynch Cruz, Ph.D., PCC, GCDF, SPHR
Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator