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How to Accept a Compliment

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You walk into the office and one of your coworkers greets you with, “Hey, that presentation you gave yesterday was super engaging, I really learned a lot.” You look down at the floor and mumble, “Um, right. OK. Later,” as you walk away leaving your now confused coworker behind.

What’s wrong with this scenario? Maybe you’re thinking, “Sheesh, way to put someone on the spot with that comment.” Or, like the confused coworker, you could be wondering, “How could someone so inept at receiving a compliment have given such an engaging presentation?” Although I just made up this scenario, it could easily have happened because, unfortunately, not everyone knows how to accept a compliment. And — full disclosure here — I’m one of those people. OK – technically, I do know what I’m supposed to do. But sometimes, I still have trouble doing it.

Why is that? Well, it could be due to the negative associations some of us may have with flattery. Come on, who hasn’t heard the terms yes-man, brownnoser or suck-up bandied about the classroom or boardroom? But just because some people sweet talk others to get what they want, that doesn’t mean every compliment you hear is insincere. In fact, some people just like giving compliments because it makes them happy. For example, consider students Brett Westcott and Cameron Brown of Purdue University. These “compliment guys” spend an hour or so each day during the school year shouting out complimentary statements to pretty much everyone they see. Reportedly, most of the passersby enjoy their happy banter. And, this concept seems to hold appeal beyond their campus — three UCLA students are doing it now, too.

If you’re one of the recipients of these students’ free-stream flattery, it’s pretty easy to accept their kind words – you can smile and simply keep walking by without coming off rude or inept. But what should you do when you’re paid a compliment one-on-one by someone standing right in front of you? Look that person straight in the eyes, smile and say, “Thank you.”

Yes, it’s that simple. If you’re like me, you might feel the need to modify your “thank you.” For example, someone recently complimented me on a piece of jewelry I was wearing that I had made. Rather than simply saying “Thank you,” I said, “Thanks, it’s just something I put together – it would probably have turned out better if I took the time to take a class or something.” But there are at least two reasons I should not have done this. For one, it discounts the intentions of the person giving me the compliment. He liked the necklace as it is. My saying that it could be better makes it seem like his opinion is somehow flawed, although that wasn’t my intention. It also suggests that I don’t really value my own abilities or talents.

If you do feel the need to add a little something to your “thank you,” make it something simple and positive. For example, in the above scenario, I could have said, “Thanks — I had fun making it.” The bottom line here is: Be gracious and let the person paying you the compliment be happy about what he or she has said, and while you’re at it, let yourself bask in the glow of those kind words, too.

What compliments have you given or gotten recently?

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