I was watching an interview with Bradley Cooper on Ellen the other day.
In minute 2, Ellen starts complimenting Bradley on his talents and skills, he humbly says thank you and then she continues to say, “You’re an amazing actor. When you take something on, you dive into it with 110%.”
He responds quickly by affirming, “You are right, that’s true.”
His response blew my mind away. The way he fully accepted that comment and the way he did not shy away from such high praise, is not one of my strong suits, nor did I get to witness this very much.
It made me think about how we all individually handle praise.
I know a few people who take ownership of the compliments they receive with ease and delight. I also know people who avert compliments – you can sense that they feel uncomfortable and as if they want to hide, divert the conversation, or just reject the compliment.
In fact, that was me.
You see, I am very good at spotting strengths in people and communicating that to them. However, when I was on the receiving end, I would uncomfortably dismiss compliments and I would feel as if my body was completely rejecting them. I would fold my arms, cross my legs, fidget with my hands awkwardly, blush and sometimes look away.
There are several reasons for this, maybe it’s because I was raised to be humble, or at times I did not feel worthy of the compliment, or often I did not see what the other person saw in me.
As my confidence evolved, I became more comfortable with compliments. It became less challenging for me to believe the positive feedback. Yet, I continued to feel shy whenever I received them.
It wasn’t until I shared this issue with a few friends that I saw it from a different perspective.
One of my friends asked me, “How do you think someone giving the compliment feels when their comment gets rejected?”
She went on to share with me how one time she was complimenting her colleague on her presentation and the girl snapped at her and told her that, “No it wasn’t good,” Then she went on to talk about all the things that went wrong during the presentation.
Her colleague’s reaction made her feel awful. First, to be discredited for a sincere comment and then to listen to her colleague nag endlessly about how poorly she did was not her idea of a good time.
My friend told me that the same thing happened with different staff members with the same girl over different occasions. She would always find ways to discredit any good comments coming her way. It made her colleagues feel awful and they eventually stopped making the effort.
I had that tendency too. I’d either dismiss the compliment by saying something negative.
For example, I once got a compliment on my writing. I remember saying, “I really need to work more on my grammar.”
Or I’d go into a compliment competition with the other person and I’d start complimenting them in return.
“Layan, your hair looks great today!”
My response: “Have you seen your hair?”
The worst thing I’d sometimes do is compliment the other person on how much better they are in that particular subject, discounting my own efforts and value.
“Layan, you were great in this meeting and you presented so well!”
My response: “Without you and your support there wouldn’t be a meeting.”
Mind you, the returned compliments I made were always genuine, but also unnecessary.
After my conversation with my friend, I realized that the person who is earnestly giving a compliment might feel hurt or insulted if I do not learn to gracefully accept the compliment.
I also realized that by doing this I am denying myself the gift of heartfelt praise.
Accordingly, the first thing I did to become better at this was tap into appreciation.
When I received a compliment, I began appreciating the person for making the effort and letting them know I appreciated their feedback.
With time, I learned how to let the comment sink in and I picked up a phrase from my classmate who’d say, “Thank you, I received that.”
We all have our reasons for how we handle receiving compliments. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. We have our cultural influences, how we are raised, how we are feeling about ourselves and other contributing factors. However, if this is something you feel you want to change then you might find these tips on how to become a better receiver helpful:
Say Thank You:
We may unintentionally shrug off the compliments and cause the other person to feel awkward. When we say “thank you,” or, “I appreciate your words,” we are accepting the positive comment with grace and appreciation.
Try to maintain some eye contact when receiving the compliment. I know this can be a bit challenging, but it can really show the other person that you are present and receptive. Keep your shoulders relaxed, breathe and maybe throw in a smile!
Avoid denying, downplaying or out-complimenting:
You don’t have to compliment the person back or feel obliged to say something to make them feel good. Downplaying or denying the compliment is not only hurtful for the other person, but also hurtful for us, the receivers.
Imagine you’re standing next to a child you really love, and the moment they receive praise, you cover their ears and say, “Nope, you are not good enough for this praise!” That is exactly what we do to ourselves when we reject positive feedback.
Master Level Compliment Receiver:
It can be easy to notice what others are excelling at or to notice what we’re not doing well in, in our lives.
But can you imagine what’s possible if we noticed more of the things that we are doing well? What if we acknowledged our own efforts, strengths, beauty, wholeness, and presence?
Not only do we become better compliment receivers, but also our entire relationship with ourselves transforms.
So my challenge for you is: Learn to acknowledge yourself when you notice something nice about yourself.
The other day, as I was fidgeting like a chicken in pilates class, I looked at myself in the mirror, and thought ‘I am proud of myself for being here tonight!’
The old me would think that something like this is weird and very -very uncomfortable …
But, you know it felt great! I did not wait for anyone to say ‘well done’.
I recognized my own effort and I felt I should let myself know.
This took me some practice, but it has really transformed how I feel about myself.
Try it today, before going to bed, reflect on your day and think:
What did you do well or maybe not so well – but you kept trying?
How did you take care of yourself or an issue?
What tough decisions you had to make?
Did you learn something new?
Did you face a challenge? How did you handle it?
Next, focus on what you can acknowledge.
I promise you, you will find at least one thing you can appreciate (even if that one thing is the fact that you called to check on your grandma!)
If you have any questions or would like support in this area, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.