Why You Should Learn to Take a Compliment, And How to Do It

Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way. I hope it never will. – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Most of us were brought up to believe that we should try to be modest as often as possible and that it’s not nice to take credit for the things you do well. None of us wants to come across as being ‘big headed’ and the assumption is that people don’t like people who brag.

This is a nice attitude to take, and it’s true that there are benefits to being humble and even sometimes playing the underdog. The problem is that many of us will take this idea too far and end up refusing to even take a compliment. When someone says we look great, or tells us a drawing we did is really good, we then stutter awkwardly with a barrage of ‘ah not really’ or ‘no I don’t’. Worse, we might even exclaim the opposite, ‘I look horrible!’. Here we’re going to look at why this isn’t a good way to behave and at how you can go about being more willing to accept compliments.

Why Modesty Should Only Go So Far

So first of all, what’s wrong with being modest and humble? Well for one it can actually come across as a bit rude believe it or not. While it’s fine not to shout to the world about how good you are at maths or singing, when someone pays you a compliment they don’t want to have that thrown back in their face. If you tell someone they look beautiful and they shout back that they look horrendous or just scoff, then it suggests that they either don’t believe what you have to say, or that they aren’t interested in your compliments. Either way it devalues the gesture and it can be somewhat hurtful for the person who was only trying to be nice. The other situation is that they think you’re ‘fishing for compliments’ and really just putting yourself down because you want them to say more nice things. This can seem a little desperate and needy and you shouldn’t be surprised if people start avoiding you as a result.

Refusing to take compliments devalues your abilities and your accomplishments both in the minds of others and in your own mind. If you keep telling someone that you’re rubbish at things, then eventually they’ll start to believe it – which surprisingly isn’t going to help you terribly in either your personal or professional life. Worse though, you may even find that you start to believe what you’re saying and that you lose faith in your own abilities. This can then lead to what’s known as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. In short, because you believe you aren’t good at things, you stop trying as hard or taking pleasure in them and you become bad. It’s a terrible waste to squander your talents that way – if you have them, then they deserve your respect.

And finally, it’s just nice to receive compliments. Compliments make people feel good who receive them and they make us feel good when we give them. Don’t shrug it off – embrace the love!

Other Common Mistakes We Make in Responding to Compliments

That doesn’t however mean that you should launch into a self-congratulating rant about how good you are whenever someone compliments you. If someone says you look great then the correct response is not ‘no I don’t’, but nor is it ‘actually I look fantastic. It’s a result of genetics, good personal hygiene and attention to detail. I can give you some tips if you like… ‘.

Similarly you shouldn’t make the other common mistake of responding to a compliment with another compliment. The urge to reciprocate is one that is very much hardwired into us, so if someone says you’re very clever you might feel the pressure to say ‘so are you’ or ‘thank you, but you know you have a very good maths ability’. You must resist this urge however – nice though it may seem to repay the compliment, doing so will actually cheapen both their comment and yours. Here it will seem as you only gave the compliment because you felt you had to, and as such it won’t seem very genuine. It will also seem almost as you’re trying to deflect the compliment as you don’t really believe it.

How to Respond Correctly

So what is the correct way to respond? It might seem obvious, but the simple solution is just to say ‘thank you’. That way they know you appreciate the statement and have taken it on board, but you won’t be batting it away or praising yourself either.

The other thing that’s important is to really think about what they’re saying and to enjoy your personal moment in the sun. Conventional wisdom states that it takes ten compliments to counteract a single put down, so you should really focus on those compliments and enjoy them for all they’re worth to get the most from them.

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