Occasionally, I receive a nice text, WhatsApp, tweet, Insta comment or even a handwritten letter, thanking me for work I have done or complimenting me on something I have written or spoken about. Until recently I would respond with some kind of self-deprecating comment, and, as quickly as I could, forgot about the compliment.
Praise makes me feel awkward. The last thing in the world any Irish person wants to be accused of is having “notions”. Even writing this piece I am gripped with a fear that people will think I am full of it for even saying that I have occasionally been complimented. But I am not alone with my fear of praise. So many people are unable to take a compliment in any scenario, whether it is personal “Wow, I love your top” or “Your hair looks great today” or professional “Excellent work on that presentation” or “Nice job dealing with that difficult customer”. They immediately dismiss or deflect the praise: “This top is years old – look, there is a hole in it”, “My hair looks like a bird’s nest”, “Matt did most of the work on the presentation, I just read it out” or “The customer was a joy to deal with”.
Rejecting compliments actually makes conversations more awkward. It can turn a nice chat into an argument about how terribly useless they are. This seems to be built into women in particular. Only 22 percent of compliments given from one woman to another were accepted in a study, entitled Sex-Based Differences in Compliment Behavior and published in Language in Society, which dates back as far as 1990.
Are you too a praise-hater? There are a few tell-tale signs. When complimented, praise-haters often assume the other person did not actually mean it or they have some kind of ulterior motive in heaping praise on them. They put themselves down by pointing out weaknesses or something they did wrong, they explain why whatever they were being praised for was not a big deal or due to luck or they deflect, routing the praise towards someone else.
Luckily, there is a way to overcome and combat this compliment deflection. It consists of two words: “Thank you”. When you are complimented, thank the person giving you the compliment and avoid insulting yourself. You might find it cringe-worthy to accept the praise but it will be better for your own sense of worth and for other people’s perception of you. Once you accept the compliment, then you can return the favour by acknowledging other work ahead and the help others gave to you – just do not insult yourself in doing so. And while you are out there accepting compliments, don’t forget to share the love and give a few (genuine!) ones out too.