The Formula for Receiving Compliments

Recently, I wrote a post titled Two Reasons to Start Giving More Compliments. This post, and the accompanying video, sparked such great conversation in this community that I wanted to expand on the idea and talk about the other end of the compliment spectrum: receiving compliments.

I believe receiving a compliment appropriately is often harder than giving an appropriate compliment because it boils down to emotional maturity. And if I am being honest, this has been a hard, but needed, lesson for me personally. As I’ve observed how emotionally mature people receive compliments, I’ve realized it looks nothing like the way I receive them.

Most of the time, when I receive a compliment, I feel like I’m five years old again and someone told me my dress looks pretty. I recoil slightly, turn my eye gaze to the floor and in a shy voice say “thank you,” as if my mom had just told me to say it. And when I am not taking compliments shyly, I go to the other extreme of diminishing the compliment altogether by saying something like, “Well, I tried.”

While neither approach is going to lose me friends, they are not going to win me influence either. Influence is predicated on maturity, maturity is predicated on self-belief, and so my inability to appropriately receive a compliment indicates something deeper about my self-belief.

In his Psychology Today article, The Marks of Maturity, Tim Elmore gives seven signs of an emotionally mature person. Three of those signs – being unshaken by flattery, possessing a spirit of humility, and expressing gratitude consistently – are not just signs of maturity, but are the formula for appropriately receiving compliments.

People with emotional maturity, as Elmore states in his article, “are secure in their identity.” Therefore, a compliment is not going to inflate their ego anymore than a criticism would deflate their self-worth. A compliment would be considered by a mature person to be congruent with what they already know to be true about themselves.

Receiving a compliment also requires humility, which is not to be confused with self-deprecation. My attempt at receiving a compliment by diminishing the compliment is a form of self-deprecation as I am undervaluing my own accomplishment. Furthermore, anything other than humble acceptance also undervalues the giver of the compliment and the compliment itself.

I am sure nearly every person reading this has encountered someone who received a compliment with the assertion they were somehow overly deserving. Perhaps, many of us have been guilty of that ourselves. And while we may truly be deserving, humbly accepting a compliment also means we understand that, although we are deserving, we are not entitled. It means we understand other’s words are, in fact, a gift freely given out of their own humility.

Which means the only appropriate response to a genuine compliment is genuine gratitude for the gift.

I am working on simply saying “thank you,” consistently and with eye contact. What do you need to work on? How does your self-belief influence the way you receive a compliment? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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