How to Accept a Compliment with Humility | The BridgeMaker

How to Accept a Compliment with Humility

By on Jan 05, 2013

I can live for two months on a good compliment. – Mark Twain

We all long to be appreciated. Every day we put in a hard slog, whether it be at work or in the home. Maybe it’s both.

Unnumbered tasks get completed, often as unnoticed as they are unremarkable. But they stack up and we sure do like it when someone has something positive to say about it, even about just some of it.

So here we sit, primed, aching to be recognized. You would think we would be ready for it. But no, when we finally get that commendation we so eagerly await, it’s like someone just handed us a newborn baby for the first time. Don’t hand that thing to me, if I take it I might break it!

Do you know any of these compliment breaking strategies (maybe a little too well)?

The Deflector

This is the guy who just won’t allow you to praise him. “It was all my team, they deserve all the credit” or one of my personal favorites, “Thanks to God, I didn’t do anything.”

No doubt the team you lead would welcome some recognition. So recognize them. In fact, this better not be the first compliment they hear about their work from you. But do you abdicate your role in your team, the role that may in fact carry the greatest weight of responsibility?

If you aren’t giving God thanks already, you may have to have a little talk with God about that. Just keep in mind, He doesn’t need any compliments addressed to you. Do you abdicate your role in God’s plan for which he would be more than pleased to see you rightfully appreciated?

I have a friend. Let’s call him Max. Max is a particularly great guy. He has a job at a major university with heavy responsibility and hundreds of workers answering to him. Not only that, after work he is a minister who supervises dozens of volunteers on a weekly basis for no pay.

So one day I complimented him on how he was running a particularly complex volunteer project. Those quotes above about team and God? They are pretty much direct quotes from him.

It became a game to me. I was going to get this guy to accept a compliment whatever it might take. Max is a really bright guy. It was going to be a challenge. So here we went:

Me: Max, everyone has been telling me how much they like working for you on this project.

Max: Nah, I’m a tyrant, they’re all just afraid to say so.

Me: No really, there are people volunteering here today solely so they can work for you.

Max: I’ll bet they would switch departments in a minute if I would let them off the leash.

Me: Max, seriously, the crew wants you to know how much they are inspired by your leadership.

Max: It’s all God’s doing, a trained ape could do the job I’m doing.

I kept taking a run at him, week after week. He just could not accept a compliment!

The Inflator

This is the person who not only isn’t satisfied with your praise; he’ll take over the job for you. “I’m doing a good job you say? Let me tell you, what I’m doing is a great job, an epic job. You’re lucky to have me doing it!”

Mr. Blowhard here can’t be satisfied with your compliment. Then he wonders why you don’t commend him more. Frankly, you just don’t want to get flogged for giving him praise. This is a vicious cycle as it makes him even hungrier for recognition.

If you have found yourself being the Deflector or the Inflator, you may wonder how to do it different. You may feel like you ought to be humble and defer all praise to others.

Or you may feel underappreciated and really want others to see the full scope and value of your contributions. Is there a way to be complimented, humble, and fully appreciated all at the same time?

The Receiver

It might seem simple but compliments are made to be received as is. Your role on the other side is merely to receive. There is no lack of humility in receiving a compliment.

In fact, deflecting praise is an exercise in false humility. False humility is the worst kind of pridefulness there is because it is pride deceptively masquerading as humility. At least the proud person takes the compliment. A compliment received is gratitude shown to the giver.

So here is the simple formula for receiving a compliment. It is a one step process. When someone commends you, say this:

Thank you.

That’s it. There is no step two. Yes, of course you can continue to engage your complimenter. But when it comes to the compliment itself, simply accepting their praise with thanks is all that is required.

What if the commendation does fairly extend to others? Ok, it’s still a one step process. It looks like this:

Thank you, we all worked hard to get it done.

The only difference is you acknowledge on behalf of the group to which you clearly belong.

If you feel your contributions are not being recognized, there is a time and place to bring this up. Compliment time is not that time and place. You can even reference their praise to open such a conversation. But do it later. Keep the compliment given/compliment received interaction clean and simple.

The Making of a New Receiver

Was Max a man full of false humility? Far from it. After playing with him for weeks, I took another tack. I offered a compliment and he deflected as usual, but this time I pounced: “Max! It was a compliment. Take it.” He fumbled around a moment, had a dawning of recognition, apologized and said, “Oh…right. Thanks.” Yes! My work is done here.

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  • I have learned that a simple thank you is just fine. And indeed compliments are lovely to receive. A couple of years ago, a woman I was sitting next to at a meeting turned to me and told me I have a lovely smile. Well, I’ve been smiling every since. So I try to be generous with the compliments I hand out, and gratefully acknowledge the ones I receive.

    • Kenneth Vogt

      Yours is the perfect example of how to do it and how doing it that way is great for you. If you had launched into something like “Oh no, yours is much prettier” you wouldn’t have been motivated to be “smiling ever since”. Or if you had fixated on something beyond that, like wondering why she hadn’t notice your makeup or your clothes instead, you would have missed it. Well done and keep it up! Look at that, you just got another compliment. 😉