Note

The double benefit of learning to receive praise, thank you

3 minute read

For many years I tried to turn every praise I received in something back to the person that was giving it to me, either by humbling myself so the other could feel better about themselves, or by praising back if the other was involved or had done something that I thought was worthy. I thought it was a good way to deal with it. Make the other feel better about themselves can’t be bad, right?

Until I tried to just receive it, and I noticed I wasn’t able to.

Our instructor made me stand still and say “thank you” while he presented me with a compliment. I was extremely uncomfortable, and struggled to look him in the eye. I counted seconds until I could return to my seat, unnoticed.

There were a million thoughts racing through my head: Why would someone who barely knew me give me a compliment? Why would I trust them? Why bother saying “thank you” when I knew in my heart of hearts that I was not worthy? Was it lunchtime yet?

— K. Muller (2016) How I learned to receive praise

However accepting praise is beneficial in at least two different ways.

The personal benefit of accepting praise is a form of validating and affirming our own worth. For people that have different forms of impostor syndrome, this can be very challenging, but is also incredibly powerful. Learning to do this, over months and years, can help building self-esteem and the ability to assess more objectively ourselves.

The professional benefit of accepting praise is a form of affirming an existing relationship, confirming belonging to a group, and also keeping the positivity flowing. This might be hard to acknowledge until we evaluate what happens when the praise is deflected: we are denying the other opinion, creating a negative tone, and implying that praise isn’t valued, thus acting as a form of operating conditioning against future praise and positive reinforcement within everyone in the team.

If you’re a person that has an hard time in accepting praise, this is something that can be learned:

  1. Begin with the most basic approach: “Thank you” (or “You’re welcome” depending on the context) and nothing else. Resist the temptation to follow up with something. Just try to say thanks, and stop there.
  2. Try to pay attention to the thoughts in your mind when you get praise. What are you thinking? What is the internal narrative? Are you rationalizing reasons why that praise isn’t valid?
  3. Try to pay attention to your posture, at first just looking at it, no need to change it or to fix it. Are you staying away from looking at the other in the eyes or nothing at all?
  4. Over time try to expand the ways to say thank you, with acceptance and positivity.
  5. In professional contexts, learn to avoid the trap of “it’s their job, I shouldn’t praise them”. Even when the job is done well, the confirmation of that gives the ability of clearing doubts and knowing that’s the right direction to go. Positive reinforcement trumps negative reinforcement.

 

If you do public speaking, there are some extra bits that can help:

  1. Always end clearly, don’t tail the talk with series of open sentences. When you’re done mark it clearly: just pause, “Thank you”, and pause again. This gives the signal to the audience that you’re done, and they can applaud. I’ve seen many insecure speakers to not end like this and use the lack of applause or an insecure one as a sign they weren’t good enough, when most of the times it was really just a lack of a proper marker that the talk was done, and nothing more.
  2. When the audience applauds, stay there.
  3. When the audience applauds, stay there and look back at them. This is separate because I know it’s harder, and if you’re having an hard time, it’s better to split this in two different steps.

 

Of course, all of this applies to the scenario where the praise is sincere and you’re a person that have an hard time accepting it. When these two conditions aren’t met, none of the above really apply.

However, even these two points are interesting because the very same people that can’t accept a compliment might rationalize using exactly these two points: “I shouldn’t boast too much”, thus over compensating in humility, and “how do I know if the praise is really sincere”, thus denying even the most basic and sincere compliment.

In this case, while following the practical points above can still be useful, the most important thing could be to talk with someone about this, to get a proper and insightful objective opinion from the outside.

 

Via Jenn Wood.