Doors Open - Waarom een compliment krijgen zo moeilijk is

Why it’s so difficult to receive compliments – and what you can do about it

“What? This old thing? I’ve had it for years!” I hear myself saying this more often than than I’d like to when I get a compliment about my outfit. Not only about my outfit actually, even professionally I brush compliments off. Even though, I know that I am a good trainer and coach.

When I receive a compliment I feel awkward, sometimes I giggle and I don’t know how to react. Apparently I am not the only one. After asking a few people in my professional and personal network, and it appears that others also find it difficult. Which is a shame. You do not only fail yourself by trivializing a compliment or brushing it off, but also the one who gives the compliment.

How come there are so many people that find it difficult to receive a compliment? I think there are a number of reasons behind this.

#1 – Modesty

We often learn to be modest. Especially in The Netherlands we have a saying “Just act normal, that’s already crazy enough.” By accepting a compliment instead of brushing it off, you may fear that you will come across as pretentious.

#2 – What do you want from me?

Because of insecurities or distrust we think that there is something more behind a compliment. That flattery is used to get something from us. If a sales person in a shop says that those new jeans look fantastic on you, you immediately think it’s because she wants to sell you something. If a family member gives you a compliment and then asks for a favour, you think “Told you so, they didn’t mean it. They did it to manipulate me.”

#3 – You don’t even know me

Who gives the compliment, also influences our reaction. Imagine you are giving a presentation and afterwards someone that you don’t really know comes up to you and says, “Very inspiring. Especially the part where you talked about the importance of personal leadership.” Because you aren’t familiar with the person, it is more difficult to accept the compliment. We often find it easier to accept a compliment from a close friend, colleague or loved one. Although in today’s era of social media it is completely normal to constantly seek compliments from strangers. The compliments, however, are often casual and there is the safety of having a screen between you. Accepting face-to-face compliments remains difficult, especially if it’s from a stranger.

Receiving compliments – this is how it can be done!

By brushing off compliments, you bring yourself down. But have you considered that it also negatively influences the person giving you a compliment? By trivializing it you give the impression that their opinions is incorrect (as you disagree with it) and you can make them feel bad.

The next time you receive a compliment try the following:

#1 – Say “Thank you”

Rule number 1! No matter how awkward it feels, this is the only reaction with which you can’t go wrong. You are happy and the person giving the compliment is happy.

Often it is not the “thank you” that makes the situation awkward, but the silence afterwards. Think: it is not that bad if there is a small silence. Enjoy the compliment that you just received and then continue the conversation.

#2 – Do not compliment them right back

When someone gives us a compliment, we are inclined to give them the same compliment back. Do not do it! It feels forced and sometimes even fake, which also lowers the worth of the compliment you just received. You often also end up in throwing compliments back and forth. “Your hairs looks nice.” “No, YOUR hair looks good.” It’s better to receive a compliment, continue the conversation and to give a (meaningful) compliment back at another moment.

#3 – Take a moment to see what the compliment does to you

Practice makes perfect and you will see that if you train yourself to accept a compliment, this will have a positive effect on what it does to you. The first few times may feel awkward, but after a while it will make you feel good and will give you more self-confidence. By really taking the time to receive the compliment and reflecting on how it makes you feel, the effect will only become greater.

You did great, Suzanne

Finally… compliment yourself more often. No, that doesn’t make you arrogant. There are things that you are good at. You are allowed to say them out loud. Did you know that self-awareness is the first step to personal leadership?

If you want to know more about personal leadership, take a look at our special coaching package for personal leadership!

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