Do you find it awkward to accept praise?

25 October 2023 Snehal Ponde


​In one of my many conversations with my counsellor, she happened to praise me for something. To which I mumbled something irrelevant and immediately got feedback “learn to start accepting compliments well?”. It kind of struck me as odd, I mean, as human beings, don’t we all want to be appreciated for what we bring to the table or do? it’s only natural right?

And yet here I was, uncomfortable to receive it. And this wasn’t the first time I was doing this. Just a day after this incident, my yoga teacher mentioned something and I, as usual, couldn’t respond. To which she simply said “you have to say ‘thank you’ at this point”.

Now why is it so difficult to receive praise?

Often, we believe that by accepting a compliment, we are feeding our ego. And haven’t we been taught since childhood to be humble? Humility and pride don’t go hand in hand. And thus, often we get caught in the dichotomy of accepting praise as we don’t know where it falls – ego or self esteem.  

Another one I believe we strongly feel is this “imposter syndrome”. We simply don’t believe we deserve it. How can they believe I am that good at something?

And then what do we do? Wedeflect the appreciation elsewhere or downplay it… by adding ‘but’.

Or we simplydon’t believe in the authenticity of the compliment. “what is his motive in saying this”. “Is he just saying it to make me feel better”.

Oh, and then there is my favourite, which Christopher Littlefield, the founder of AcknolwedgementWorks, calls compliment ping-pong. You get one – you give one, however unauthentic it sounds.

In his research, he found that although the main thing people associate recognition with is a feeling of being valued (88%), nearly 70% of people associate embarrassment or discomfort with it.

Whew, so I am not alone!

So what can we do about it?

  • Appreciation is like ‘prasaad’, you accept it humbly: During my time as a learning & development professional, I have used this statement countless times for “feedback”. This is while I would train managers on giving and receiving feedback effectively. And yet, it’s taken me so long to process it myself! When someone praises you, they are gifting you with something that is so unique to you. Accept it with humility.

  • Say the ‘golden words’ when nothing else comes to mind: “Thank you” is the simplest and most powerful phrase you could use when your mind is in turmoil or discomfort. We all yearn for appreciation, so be graceful about accepting it when it knocks on your door. Share credit where needed.

  • There are two sides to the story: I remember once walking up to a senior leader in my organisation and telling her what an inspiration she had been for me during a particular crisis at work, to which she barely responded and walked off quickly. For a long time, I thought I had overstepped my boundaries or said something out of line. Today when I think about it, she probably was just left stunned and unable to react to my praise. But I also remember my confusion, and honestly, it took a lot of courage for me to speak my mind. So, I guess it’s important for us to acknowledge praise well, so as to make the person giving it feel they did the right thing.

  • Start knowing yourself better: Often we are so busy undermining or judging ourselves that we fail to see the naked truth. Our strengths which shine through in tough times. But our people see them with clarity which we often misinterpret in our heads. So why not accept it graciously?

Accepting a compliment graciously goes against the outmoded ideas about female modesty and humility. It is not vain to simply say “thank you”Judith Gaton

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