Can’t Take a Compliment? How You’re Punishing People Who Praise You

If You Can’t Take a Compliment, Expect to Stop Getting Them

Many people can’t take a compliment gracefully. You may be one of them. Do you punish people when they pay you a compliment? Let’s find out!

Imagine you just presented a proposal during a team meeting. Also, imagine your name is Joan. (I don’t know your name, so you’re going to have to work with me here.)

After the meeting, one of your colleagues gives you helpful, specific positive feedback. “Joan,” they say, because that’s your name I just gave you, “your presentation was really good. Your research on sales trends was thorough, your presentation was clear and concise, and your conclusions made a lot of sense.” Would you respond by punishing your colleague? Punishing responses are those that discourage the person from paying you another compliment. Do you hear yourself in any of the punishing responses that follow?

“Do you really think so?”

At best, you’re accusing the person of being insincere. Unless the person is a known habitual liar, this question is unnecessary. Yes, they really think so, or they wouldn’t have said so. On the other hand, if the person is a known habitual liar (they do exist), then asking, “Do you really think so?” isn’t likely to elicit an uncharacteristically truthful response.

Or perhaps you think you’re being humble. Asking your colleague to reiterate, restate, or elaborate on specific and sincere praise is the opposite of humility. On the contrary, this question begs for less specific, less sincere flattery. Can I be honest with you, Joan? No one is fooled by your attempt to get an even more glowing endorsement of your presentation.

 “I don’t think it was very good.”

Again, you may think you are being humble. Or perhaps you really think your presentation sucked. In either case, this response creates unnecessary conflict. You’re essentially arguing with someone who thinks you did a great job. Two problems with this response: (1) People tend to avoid conflict, so you won’t be getting good feedback in the future if you keep this up. (2) When you push your subjective point of view, you are no longer listening. Without listening, you cannot learn.

“It was no big deal” or “I didn’t spend enough time on it”

Your colleague has just demonstrated admiration for something that you’ve done well. There are two likely scenarios here. The first is that they don’t yet have or feel confident in these skills. In this case, you are discounting your abilities, which they have elevated above their own. By minimizing your own skills, you push them down too.

The other scenario is that they are both proficient in and confident with these skills. In that case, who are you to tell them they’re wrong?

“I hope [insert manager’s name here] thought so”

Poor Barb. (We’ll pretend your colleague’s name is Barb.) You’ve just told her that her opinion isn’t important to you. Or at least not as important as [insert manager’s name here]’s. Don’t expect Barb to buy you lunch anytime soon.

Next Steps

Do you struggle to take a compliment gracefully? What beliefs, values, or identities might be getting in your way?

Are you ready for more productive responses that encourage better feedback? Bring the Serving Up Feedback, One BITE at a Time program to your organization or event, or register for an upcoming webinar (availability varies).



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