If accepting a compliment at work makes you uncomfortable, try simply saying “thank you.” Brushing off praise could make your hard work seem as if it wasn’t actually important.
You may want your boss to like what you do, but does it make you squirm when she says “thank you” or gives you a compliment?
It’s common for many confident and accomplished professionals to feel uncomfortable when someone applauds their work. Even when an employee knows they did a great job, they may hear themselves responding to a compliment with, “No big deal.”
Forget what your mother taught you about humility. Modesty is the wrong response when your boss says you did well. (Click here to tweet this quote.)
When you try to sound humble, your boss may take you at your word and conclude that your effort wasn’t actually significant. More importantly, when you deflect a compliment you drain the juice from what should be a positive moment.
Think about how the “thank you” exchange should go. When your boss offers kind words, she wants you to feel good. If you answer gracefully, she starts to feel good, too. But if you reject her praise or thanks, she may feel a little awkward or rebuffed.
Don’t lose the benefits that praise and gratitude can bring. When you respond to accolades from your boss, you have two goals. You want to reinforce her appreciative evaluation of your work, and you want her to feel good about her moment with you.
Use these six strategies to get the most from praise:
1. Say “thank you”
This is important. Begin your response by thanking the speaker — and sound like you mean it. Even if a little voice in your head says, “I don’t deserve it,” ignore your doubt and show appreciation. When you express sincere gratitude, you and your boss will both feel better.
2. Pause and enjoy
To your brain, hearing positive words feels like a reward — and research suggests you perform even better after receiving a reward. So after hearing thanks or compliments, pause for an instant. Get the full value of the moment and you’ll have new energy for more good work.
3. Allow yourself to be pleased
It’s not arrogant to acknowledge satisfaction when you’ve been successful. After saying “thanks,” it’s OK to add a phrase like, “It was a wonderful opportunity.”
4. Share the credit
Although you don’t want to deny your contribution, you don’t want to hog the limelight, either. If it truly was a team effort, spread the kudos around. Add a simple comment like, “It was great to work with Joe on this.”
5. Return the compliment
You can prolong the enjoyable moment by offering a commendation in return. You might say something like, “Your support made such a difference.” But this only works if you’re honest as flattery or fake expressions of gratitude are seldom convincing — and they can be just another way of declining a compliment.
6. Be brief
When the exchange of polite words goes on too long it can become painful. If the flow of praise feels unending, it’s OK to turn it off with a light comment like, “Aw shucks. That’s enough now. You’re making me blush.”
While you practice the strategies, think about why the praise process feels difficult. A surprising number of high achievers find it difficult to accept compliments because at some level they believe they don’t really deserve them. Social psychologists call this the “imposter phenomenon.” If you feel like an imposter, ignore your discomfort and go ahead and accept positive comments with a “thank you.”
To explore further, ask yourself whether your lack of ease stems from their glowing words or from the way you talk to yourself about those words. If your habitual response to praise is to say to yourself, “you should have done even better,” it’s no wonder you don’t enjoy it.
Maybe it’s time to practice a new thought pattern when you hear positive feedback. Next time, try saying to yourself, “it feels wonderful to be recognized.”
Beverly Jones is an executive coach in Washington, D.C. with clients including government agencies, congressional offices, trade associations, businesses, universities, lawyers and journalists. See more at www.clearwaysconsulting.com.