Getting complimented for your work is an exciting, rewarding feeling. We work with the idea that our manager is keeping a note of our calibre and expanding skillset; it’s the gateway to future bonuses and appraisals.
Praise and encouragement are also the building blocks of solid workplace relationships. They help boost morale and productivity and allow for friendship and allyship to flourish. Giving and receiving compliments at work is an important aspect of a healthy work culture, as no one would like to continue working in an organisation that does not value their hard work.
But, despite the fact that praise is universally loved, many of us become awkward when it actually happens.
In a study conducted by Christopher Littlefield, founder of AcknowledgmentWorks, he found that even though 88% of people associated recognition with the feeling of being valued, about 70% of people associate the process of recognition with embarrassment.
This means that though employees love being appreciated and feel more valued because of it, they are terrible at accepting praise.
Why is that? Research has some interesting things to say.
Why is it so hard for me to accept a compliment?
“Oh, it really wasn’t that difficult to do.”
“I could have surely done better than this.”
“It was a team effort; I barely had to do a thing.”
“It’s way easier than it looks. You could have done it too!”
Do these statements sound familiar? Well, these are just some of the ways in which we tend to dodge praise at work.
Sociolinguists have neatly categorised people’s responses to compliments: acceptance, deflection, and rejection. While some are naturally comfortable with accepting praise, others either turn the compliment into something ordinary, or simply reject it.
There are many reasons why people reject praise or compliments at work.
In many cultures (such as ours), humility and humbleness are highly valued, which discourages people from projecting confidence. This feeling gets amplified in work settings because people don’t want to come across as stuck-up or conceited.
Imposter syndrome is yet another issue many people face, wherein they believe that they are doing well because of what they have seen others doing, and not because of their own calibre.
As women, we are conditioned to be as agreeable, likeable, and invisible as we can, which easily transfers into our work ethic. Women struggle to speak up at work; they often undervalue their work which leads to underpayment; some also give into the conditioning that work does not matter when they ultimately have to get married and raise a family. In many cases, women also deliberately downplay their achievements because their confidence is deemed threatening. These things combined make women even less comfortable with accepting praise and compliments.
It’s important for us to let go of this conditioning and understand that good workplaces thrive on building each other up, and giving and receiving compliments is one way to do that.
9 simple ways to accept praise at work
If you’re struggling with accepting compliments at work, here are some tips to practice.
A simple ‘thank you’ works well
It’s not necessary to add to the compliment in any way.
A simple ‘thank you’ shows that you genuinely appreciate the compliment, making the compliment giver feel validated. Make sure that you smile warmly as you accept the compliment.
Example: “What a wonderful presentation that was!” “Thank you so much! I appreciate it.”
Share credit where it’s due
If it’s a team effort that you’re getting complimented for, add that in your response.
It will make you look like a team player and will also take the edge off you if you’re awkward.
Example: “Great job on those numbers.” “Thank you! It was great to work together with Gargi to achieve it.”
Use your body language
Introverts often let their awkwardness get in the way of compliments, which is why using the right body language works wonders.
If you are not able to add much to your ‘thank you’ on receiving a compliment, use the appropriate body language to express gratitude.
A smile or a handshake works best with higher-ups; a gentle pat on the arm works well for coworkers and subordinates.
Remember not to cross your arms, and always look at the compliment giver. Of course, your equation with the individual matters most – tread smartly!
Don’t battle a compliment with another
It can be difficult to stop at a ‘thank you’ without feeling like you’re being stuck-up, but giving another compliment in return undermines your work and dilutes the compliment itself.
Don’t say, “My input wasn’t as important as hers!” when being complimented; accept the compliment and move on.
If you are leading a project, accept the compliment and then credit your team
When someone compliments you for a project you have incidentally lead, they aren’t complimenting only the results you’ve achieved – they are also indirectly complimenting your ability as a leader.
After all, it was under your leadership that the results were achieved.
Accept the compliment wholeheartedly for yourself, and then credit your team for the work they put in.
Example: “Great work on the campaign!” “Thank you so much. The team worked really hard on this and I’m happy we got to work on such an exciting campaign.”
Add a detail to your ‘thank you’
This is another hack for introverts who want to practice accepting compliments. You know the effort that has gone into achieving results; bring that up when you’re saying ‘thank you’. It will add value to your words and also reflect your hard work.
Example: “This was very well put together, Isha.” “Thank you. It was quite difficult to pull off, I’m glad you noticed.”
Don’t make the compliment giver elaborate
You may be genuinely surprised that someone noticed your work, or your imposter syndrome may not allow you to accept the praise.
But no matter the reason, it’s not a good idea to question the compliment giver.
Don’t say, “Oh, what makes you think that I have potential?” or, “Really? Do you believe it was really good?” or anything adjacent when someone compliments you. They mean it; accept it graciously.
Don’t downplay the compliment
This one is valid, especially for women. We’re conditioned to devalue our work, so we must learn to be more confident in our accomplishments.
Do not, under any circumstance, downplay the praise you are receiving because it can make you seem underconfident and unsure of yourself.
Accepting a compliment goes a long way in building self-esteem, so focus on what you can do with the praise.
Accepting praise doesn’t come easily to many, but it’s important for one’s personal and professional growth. What was the best compliment you received at work? Tell us in the comments below!
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