Stop Dodging Compliments

Photo of a fist wearing a ring that says, “I am badass.”
Photo of a fist wearing a ring that says, “I am badass.”
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Why is accepting compliments so difficult?

I was in a 1:1 with my mentor Stephen Gates this afternoon, and he complimented my work on a recent project. I immediately deflected and launched into a compliment about a project that HE is working on and mentioned how many more people he was impacting at once. He rolled his eyes and said, “It’s not a competition!”

Twenty minutes later he complimented another project result and I immediately changed the subject.

He called me out and said, “In the years we’ve known each other I don’t think you’ve ever just accepted a compliment. You deflect or return one or change the subject every single time. You never just internalize it and say thank you.”

I had received similar feedback from my boss a few weeks prior about being overly humble. He said that being humble is great, but that being too humble or always giving other people credit for your success can discount people’s perception of your skillset and personal contributions. He said I need to get better about discussing the projects I’m working on and the impact they have and how I have contributed to that impact.

My immediate response to him was that I don’t want to brag about the work I’m doing, that it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. He replied that it’s not bragging when you’re explaining how successful what you’re working on has been, it’s making sure that others in the org are aware of the hard work you’re putting in and how it’s paying off for the business.

I struggle SO HARD with this. Compliments and talking about successful projects both make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I like to hide out in the background and make things work. Quietly kicking ass, creating new programs and keeping things running smoothly behind the scenes is my comfort zone. I know that I am skilled at what I do. I get great results. I’m extremely driven (too much at times). So why does it make my skin crawl when other people either say it out loud, or ask me to talk about it?

My mentor reframed the issue. He said, “Talking about your life experiences, and your career path and how you’ve gotten to where you are can INSPIRE other people. Keeping all of that to yourself means that people in situations similar to the ones you experienced in your life still feel alone like you did when you were going through them.”

That comment blew my mind. I had never, ever thought about sharing my work, and discussing success, and accepting compliments impacting other people.

Tonight my daughter and I were chatting about J.K. Rowling, and the amazing, inspiring life she has led. As I was raving about her, my daughter slid in the comment, “Well, you’re doing the same thing.”

I was completely caught off guard and replied, “Um… I’m not a billionaire NYT Best Selling Author?”

She rolled her eyes and said, “That’s not what I mean. You went from being on welfare when I was a baby to building an awesome career as a single mom. And you’re a great mom.”

I didn’t know what to say and got a little choked up, so I followed up with something like, “Well, I do the best I can, parenting is tough and I feel like I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, luckily you’re a great kid.”

And she laughed and said, “Why can’t you just take the compliment. You’re a great mom. Just say thank you.”

I was stunned and told her that my mentor had said EXACTLY that to me a few hours prior! I couldn’t believe the timing.

And she said, “You should listen to him. Seeing compliments make you uncomfortable makes me feel like they should make me uncomfortable, but they don’t, and that makes me feel like I must be cocky or something.”

Kids see EVERYTHING. Every single thing. So then we had a conversation about how she should always internalize compliments given to her, because she deserves them, and then she told me I do too, and it took ALL OF MY STRENGTH not to say, “Not as much as you do.” WHY?!

So, this post is a reminder to myself and to those of you who suffer from the same affliction that it’s ok to know that you kick ass at your job. And it’s ok to reply to a compliment with, “Thank you!” instead of deflecting, changing the subject or turning the compliment on the person who gave it. You are worthy of praise.

And it’s ok to talk about YOUR WORK being successful and making an impact on your organization or on the lives of others.

When you’re great at what you do, own that $#$%. You can’t wait for someone else to advocate for you when it comes to your career. If even you won’t stand up for your skills and contributions, how can you expect someone else to do it for you? It’s YOUR career path, no one else's. You’re in control. Point yourself in the direction you want to go and keep stomping forward.

I want my daughter to hold her head up high and feel it when people compliment her work. So I need to suck it up and set an example.

Let’s start small. The next time you receive a compliment, reply, “Thank you,” with no additional words attached. Live in that uncomfortable feeling for a few seconds until it really soaks in that another human being just told you that you’re doing a great job. Let it be a bright spot in your day instead of an uncomfortable situation.

I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines and doing my best to follow my own advice.

Written by

UX Blogger ~ Product Designer ~ Sr Mgr of Design Community Partnerships @InVisionApp Opinions are my own ❤ (© 2014–2019 Jennifer Aldrich)

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