French writer Luc de Clapiers once said, "If people did not compliment one another, there would be little society." Compliments function like social currency and often grease the wheels of our interpersonal interactions. The recipient of a well given compliment may remember it for years. One study even found that when exercising, people seem to perform better after receiving a compliment. However, many of us have a complicated relationship with compliments and recognition in general.
Often, our first reaction to a compliment is to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.
You're probably familiar with the process of "deflecting" a compliment, when the receiver responds in a way that undercuts the compliment. For example, if someone says, "You did such a good job delivering your speech" a deflecting response might be "Well, you didn't see how I was shaking up there."
Why do we struggle to accept compliments? Christopher Littlefield, founder of AcknowledgmentWorks, addresses several "ineffective practices" in his 2012 TEDxBeirut talk. As Chris explains, many of us have experience receiving compliments from bosses or friends right before they ask us to do something. Or, perhaps you've been the victim of a disingenuous compliment sandwich – when criticism is given sandwiched between two compliments. These approaches leave us feeling manipulated, rather than appreciated.
With all the benefits associated with a good compliment, how can we get over our recognition hang ups? A true compliment is like a gift, good for both parties. Giving and receiving compliments is cognitive training in seeing the positive. When giving a compliment, make it specific to that person. What is that person proud of? What have they worked hard on? Verbally affirm what matter most to them, whether it's their creative solutions to tough problems or ability to keep a cool head under pressure.
When someone gives you a compliment, allow yourself to accept it. Take a moment to really hear it, then give a gracious thank you. Remember, this is a gift given to you. Through compliments, we are reminding ourselves and others to never take anyone for granted.
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