I recently attended a high-profile personal development event. The speakers were crème de la crème: Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk, Shark Tank’s ‘Mr. Wonderful’ to name a few. The kind of conference where you jump up and down, have multiple rounds of ugly cry, become best friends with the people sitting next to you, and yes, experience incredible personal breakthrough.
Sometimes the breakthroughs come from unusual places. I happened to be sitting next to an interesting gentleman. He was the president of a company. Tall, dark, handsome, confident, intelligent, attentive — the type of man that makes a woman’s heart go pitter patter (ladies, you understand). We bonded over Myers Briggs, Dale Carnegie, and our cocaine-like addition to reading books. In the middle of a rather deep conversation about a business loss, I said to him ‘I really admire the way you were able to pick back up and start all over again. It shows courage.’ To which he responded, ‘Not really. It’s just in my nature to keep going.’ I winced. It felt like a giant industrial machine just plowed through my field of kind sentiments. Later in the conversation, I gave him another compliment about a particular mindset he possessed. Whack. He swatted that one away too. We eventually started talking about the 5 Love Languages. He revealed that his main love language was words of affirmation. My face must have betrayed my bewilderment.
“You look surprised,” he said, eyebrow raised.
I see so many people messing this up.
Well-meaning, kind people. People who want to excel in life and in relationships, but keep shooting themselves in the foot.
Here’s the big idea: dismissing compliments erodes your influence.
Let’s look at some common compliments.
Now let’s look at how people reject compliments.
They use false humility.
To your ‘I like your sweater’ compliment, this person may respond:
They underplay their abilities.
To your ‘great job on the presentation’ compliment, this person may respond:
They focus on the negative.
They make it transactional.
Another bizarre response is the recipient’s knee-jerk reaction to compliment right back. ‘I like your sweater.’ ‘Oh, I like yours too!’ ‘You’re so insightful’ ‘Oh, you’re smart too!’ Just, stop. This isn’t a tennis match. You don’t owe the other person anything. Compliments are a gift, not a tit-for-tat game.
This one is more rare. To your ‘I agree with you, you have interesting insights,’ compliment, this person will respond, ‘You just mirrored what I said. Congratulations, you can hear.’ Overly-sarcastic. Biting. In some twisted way, this person takes compliments as a way to puff up their own ego and put you down. It’s an effort to get the upper hand. RUN.
What’s so bad about rejecting compliments?
I mean, there are worse things I could be doing, like torturing puppies or stealing canes from the elderly. What’s the big deal?
It makes you look insecure.
When you reject a compliment about your appearance, skills, mental abilities, or efforts, it makes you look weak. It makes you look like you don’t believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in your value, why should anyone else?
It communicates you cannot receive.
Relationships are a give and take. We all like to be looked after. We also enjoying doing the looking after. The healthiest relationships are ones where both individuals are able to give and receive in a fluid, organic way. By rejecting a compliment you demonstrate that you are only comfortable giving, not receiving. That’s boring. But if I receive, won’t that make me too reliant on others and therefore weak? On the contrary. While you might be able to take care of things all by yourself, acknowledging that a life with others edifies your own is a position of strength.
Giving someone a compliment is like giving a gift: unexpected, thoughtful, joy-producing. Can you imagine a birthday celebration where someone opened a gift you gave them and instead of expressing excitement and gratitude, they walk right up to you and place the gift back in your lap? Ouch. Rejecting a compliment is like rejecting a gift. It’s yucky, rude, and frankly embarrassing.
It’s low-level gas-lighting.
When you give someone a compliment and they reject it, they are not just rejecting the compliment, they are rejecting your evaluation of reality. We all come to our conclusions based on obvious facts (at least we like to believe so) —e.g. he held the door open for me, therefore he is thoughtful. When you reject the compliment, you are forcing the giver to replay the whole sequence of events in their mind to make sure they picked up on all the cues correctly. In a subtle way, you’re making them doubt reality. It’s low-level gas-lighting. With similar repeat occurrences, the compliment-giver will associate you with feelings of being uncertain in their thought processes. This will make confident people want to avoid you in the future.
It’s contrary to your own interests.
We don’t attract what we want, we attract who we are. If you are overly critical and routinely reject compliments, you will find, overtime, that you attract critical people. If you want your life filled with people who will encourage you and build you up, stop rejecting overtures of people who are trying to do just that. Negative energy attracts negative people. That will not serve you well in life.
So, how do I respond to a compliment?
Accept it, humbly. Smile, say ‘thank you’, then move on in the conversation.
That’s it? Yes, that’s it.
If it helps, mentally imagine yourself receiving a birthday gift. Taking it in. Owning it. Letting it fill you with joy.
Sometimes, receiving a gift can be a bit of a surprise. The shirt really isn’t your style or the book is not really in your preferred genre. Or sometimes the giver misses the mark completely and gives you something bizarre. Receiving such a gift can be a bit awkward because you’re not sure you like it. Yet, you smile, accept it gracefully, and move on. And here’s the oh-so-funny thing. That shirt you didn’t like? You try it on later in the evening and it looks incredible. It ends up being a staple in your wardrobe. And that book you initially thought was weird? It ends up opening your world to a whole new way of thinking. It becomes one of your favorites that you frequently recommend to others.
Like a present, some compliments take us by surprise. We need to try them on for size, digest them, read between the lines, and check out the footnotes. They reveal aspects of ourselves we did not see initially. These are the compliments that live long after the initial delivery and end up shaping us in critical ways.
So say, ‘thank you.’ Say it again and again, even if the compliment is shocking.
You’ll notice the more you say it, the more compliments you receive.
The inverse is also true.
See, that’s the thing about rejecting compliments; soon enough, people stop giving them.
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