Lesson #74: How to Handle Praise

by Rachel on April 25, 2011





Sorry for that opening…I just love infomercials a little too much.

Anyway…somehow, we got it in our minds that to be humble and ego-free (which are good qualities and all, but not the end-all, be-all of personality traits) we have to disagree with anyone who tells us we did something well. We get awkward and uncomfortable when people draw attention to the things we’re good at. We may have been working our asses off on those very things, in the hopes of getting the exact praise that people are now doling out, but when we finally get it, what do we do? We say, “Oh…no. I’m not that special.”

And that? Is bullshit.

Here’s the thing: when you’re owning it, you can’t just own your flaws — you have to own your strengths too. I know you have them. You know you have them. Your friends, family, and coworkers know you have them. Acknowledging these strengths doesn’t make you a bad person. So quit feeling guilty about your God-given talents and downplaying the fact that you’re awesome.

Whether you’re getting weight loss compliments or praises on your talents from a friend, coworker, professor, or boss, here are some ways to improve how you take it.

1. Don’t deny the compliment.

…hello? Is this thing on?

This seems so obvious to me but it’s so common, it makes me crazy. Why is it that whenever someone compliments you, your first instinct is to deny them? That is so counterproductive. And ridiculous. If your boss congratulates you on a job well done, don’t respond with, “It wasn’t that great. I’m nothing special.” Really? It wasn’t? You aren’t?? Then why did she hire you??? Why are you doing work you aren’t proud of???? When you deny a compliment, that’s the message you’re sending.

2. Say “Thank you.” That is how you respond to praise. You mind your manners. You behave graciously. And you acknowledge that the compliment is true.

3. Don’t deny the compliment a second time. A lot of times, we get the “Thank you” down…and then we feel compelled to say something else. We don’t know what else to say and things feel too silent so as we scramble for words, the denials start again. Nope. Stop right there.

If you really need to fill that silence, here are some things you can say after the “Thank you.”

  • “This project means a lot to me so I really appreciate the compliment.”
  • “I’ve been working really hard so I really appreciate you saying that.”
  • “I feel great but it’s nice to hear that the hours at the gym are doing something.”
  • “It’s nice to know I’m leaving college with a job lined up.”
  • “I’m so excited about the new job.”
  • “I’m glad to hear you like it.”
  • “I appreciate that.”

See how easy that is?

And once you’ve said that, you’re done. No justification. You don’t need to say anything else. The other person will direct the conversation from there.

4. Don’t give a forced compliment back. I know it’s tempting. You want to fill the silence and take the focus off of you so you try to turn it around and talk about the complimenter. Don’t. That’s just silly. Not only are you being rude by changing the subject they brought up, but you are also being fake.

5. If you’re embarrassed, say so. If the praiser is going on and on about how awesome you are to the point that it’s making you feel uncomfortable (or making your coworkers grumble), it’s OK to put an end to it at some point. Just say, “Boss, jeez! You’re making me blush!” That usually gives people the cue to wrap it up. But don’t do that before Steps 2 and 3. Give them a chance to  actually compliment you first.

Accepting a compliment with grace takes practice, but it’s a really important life skill to have. If you continuously tell people they are wrong when they praise you, eventually they will start to believe you. And I’m afraid that you will too.


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Claire @ Live and Love to Eat April 25, 2011 at 9:24 am

Nice post… definitely something I struggle with.

It might be harder for me to take critcism though!


2 Lia {sprightly} April 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

I am definitely guilty of not taking compliments/praise well. Mostly, I am a compliment denier – I have no idea why. I need to just give a “thank you!” and a smile and get over my weirdness!


3 Manon April 25, 2011 at 9:37 am

Love this post! I’m HORRIBLE at taking compliments, despite the fact I typically declare my awesomeness 5-6 times per day. Figure THAT ONE out. I’m not normal, I own this.


4 Jess-The SemiAbnormal Gal April 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I agree completely with Manon! They don’t call me the “semi-abnormal” gal for nothing!

Great lesson, Rachel!


5 Kat April 25, 2011 at 9:41 am

All I can think about when I get a complement is all the stuff I’m bad at. May need to read this every morning for a week.


6 Jessica April 25, 2011 at 9:51 am

FANFREAKINGTASTIC post. I am guilty of all of the above. I lost about 30 lbs in the last 2 years and people still tell me “wow you look great, you’ve lost more weight!?” when really I think it’s probably just a good outfit, or a “skinny day” or whatever, but I’m awful at just saying thank you and shutting up. Also I’m so guilty of forced compliments, and I just straight up lie half the time. “Oh thanks, your blouse is so pretty!” when I’m thinking the total opposite. And I hate when people aren’t geniune but the words come out and I swear I just can’t stop them. But I will stop them… this is a great reminder that I should stop them. Thanks ;)


7 Liz @ IHeartVegetables April 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

Oh my gosh, such a good post. I’m TERRIBLE at taking compliments!! (I also went back and read your post on owning it. Also a fantastic post.) Thanks for these tips. I’m going to start embracing praises :)


8 Dori April 25, 2011 at 10:01 am

I love receiving compliments. I think I am awesome so I want everyone else to, and I want justification by their telling me. But I am a big complimenter and I know it makes some people uncomfortable.


9 Keri @ Iron Mountain Movement April 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

Great post Rachel! It’s that silence that follows “thank you” that gets me every time.


10 Elizabeth April 25, 2011 at 10:21 am

This one hits home. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Rachel!!


11 Lauren at Keep It Sweet April 25, 2011 at 10:30 am

Great tips- I find that so many women (including myself!) have trouble taking compliments. I always feel so awkward and try to change the subject.


12 poeticruse April 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

Wow, totally agree. I find myself doing the self-effacing dance all the time, and it’s true that it’s hard to take a compliment. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront.


13 Parita @ myinnershakti April 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

Haha you could have just as well been talking to me here! I don’t know why but it’s SO hard for me to accept compliments. It’s not that I don’t think I have any strengths, but it’s just hard for me to hear other people talk about them. My bf points it out all the time, so I’m working on it. Great post!


14 Bobby @ boymeetscake April 25, 2011 at 11:31 am

Funny, I just completed my self assessment for work last week.

I gave myself a low contributor.

I doubt it has anything to do with reading blogs at work…


15 Lindsey April 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

Another awesome blog post! In the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware and a little obsessed with how men and women communicate and thrive in professional environments. Did you ever notice that men have no problem taking compliments or credit for thier work (or your work)? Usually-speaking in complete generalities here– most men don’t say, “oh, it was nothing, really, gosh, thanks, that’s sweet, it was nothing, I like your hair too….” They go, “yeah, cool, thanks” and move on.

Rachel- please do a post on being too polite next. I don’t understand why I have to ask someone to do their job and then thank them when it’s completed.


16 Summer @ summerslowrunner April 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Great post! I enjoy receiving compliments but am sometimes thrown off by random, unexpected ones (which, incidentally, are usually the most genuine and flattering to receive).

It really is gratifying to just smile, say “thank you!” and move forward. Most of the awkwardness associated with receiving compliments is in your own mind anyway, the person giving the praise will NOT think you’re being rude if you don’t fire back with a feigned “you look great, too” or downplay it with “oh, no, it was nothing.”


17 Ali April 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm

True boo. Last summer I had an internship doing primary research for a professor and his next book, he complimented me on all the documents I was digging up that he’d never known about. I got super embarrassed, shrugged it off and said it wasn’t that great of information…and he said, “So all this information I’m going to use in my book isn’t that great?” I died. And turned bright red.

Long story short, I need some work on taking a compliment.


18 Rachel April 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Wow…good story and good lesson!!


19 [SMASH] April 25, 2011 at 4:44 pm

AMEN to all of this! I’ve been working on accepting compliments gracefully over the past few years & have gotten much better at it! The only thing that annoys me is people who purposely deny compliments as a way to fish for me. OVER IT!


20 Maggie April 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I’m coming out of the woodwork to comment on this post because I’ve been fuming with frustration for the last few hours about my female colleagues’ collective inability to own their successes and gracefully receive compliments. Just this evening, I ended up in one of the self-negation/affirmation dances in which Young Woman A does something well, Young Woman B gives her a compliment, and then A starts saying how she’s not all that great and how B is so much smarter/prettier/better whatever. The rules of the dance dictate that B must then respond by saying that SHE is not all that great and that A is so much smarter/prettier/better. And so it goes, on and on and on.

I hate when someone doesn’t own her achievements and puts me in the awkward position of simultaneously putting myself down while building up her ego. First of all, I don’t want to put myself down thankyouverymuch, and secondly, another woman’s insecurities are not my problem. In fact, I think I’ll say as much next time I get caught up in the dance. This post was just the push I needed – thank you!


21 Rachel April 26, 2011 at 8:28 am


Seriously, you NAILED it with your point about the self-negation/affirmation dance! I hate how we’re expected to put ourselves down when other women start doing it. “Another woman’s insecurities are not my problem.” For REAL.


22 Suzanne April 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I think we deny compliments because we don’t want to seem vain. Secretly, I know that sometimes I agree with the complimenter, but I don’t want to seem narcissistic for acting like I do. That would be a major turn-off. Other times, I’m completely surprised by the compliment, but that doesn’t happen as often. If you excel in a particular area, you hear it often enough that you know it. And thus, you should just own it. I always just say thank you, and then play back that compliment a hundred more times in my head. :-)


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