Everyone craves praise, but to accept a compliment with grace is an almost universal challenge. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re eager to receive a compliment — especially from someone you admire — but aren’t sure what to say in response.
Many people downplay compliments to avoid the appearance of conceit. It’s so common that sociolinguists have categorized the three responses to a compliment: acceptance, deflection or rejection. Rather than humbly accept or outright reject the kind words, individuals often choose to deflect or dilute the compliment.
You may be tempted to respond with denial or self-insult. It’s easy to say something like, “Thank you, but I really wasn’t that helpful,” or “Thanks, but I’ve had this outfit for 10 years; it’s practically falling apart!” Others ask for additional reassurance: “Really? I felt like I completely botched the speech.”
Though you may feel as if you’re responding appropriately, it only undermines the compliment or insults the giver. When you devalue a compliment, you can send the message that you have a low self-esteem, aren’t confident in your work or don’t respect the opinion of the person who gave you the praise.
If you frequently respond negatively to a compliment, retrain yourself to show gratitude. Here are seven ways to accept a compliment with humility and grace.
1. Express your gratitude. Any time you receive a compliment, reply with “Thank you.” It’s a simple, but powerful phrase. The person bestowing the compliment will be most receptive to a humble response. Say something like, “Thank you, that’s very kind of you,” or “Thank you, I appreciate the compliment.”
2. Share the credit. If the compliment is in regards to a team effort, acknowledge the contributions of your colleagues. Some powerful executives reach a point where they no longer publicly recognize or give credit to those who helped them succeed. This is the quickest way to lose friends. Instead, share your positive feelings. Respond with something such as, “We all put in a lot of effort; thank you for acknowledging our hard work.”
3. Receive awards with your left hand. If you’re honored for a professional accomplishment in a ceremony, always accept the plaque, trophy or certificate with your left hand. This will leave your right hand free to shake hands with the person who presented the award and those who would like to congratulate you.
4. Use appropriate body language. If you’re uncomfortable or nervous, your nonverbal cues may give the wrong impression. Don’t cross your arms or appear disinterested. Instead, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward and engage those around you with warm facial expressions. Enjoy your moment of praise.
5. Never undermine the compliment. Receive every compliment with unassuming gratitude. Avoid phrases like, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” or “Thanks, but it was nothing.” When you downplay a compliment, you may feel that you're showing humility. Instead, it may make the person who gave you the compliment feel personally rejected.
6. Avoid a compliment battle. Especially when a compliment comes from someone you respect and admire, you may feel the inclination to “out-compliment” or downplay your work. This may be appropriate in Asia, but not in the U.S. Fight the urge to one-up someone’s sincere praise. Don’t say something like, “Thank you, but we know my input wasn’t nearly as valuable as yours.” Instead, embrace the moment and be grateful for the accolade.
7. Follow appropriate etiquette. If you’re the subject of a toast, adhere to proper protocol. The recipients of toasts do not drink at the end of the speech — think how awkward it would be to sing “Happy Birthday” at your own party. Instead, nod your head and smile, give everyone a chance to have a sip of their beverage and then offer a return toast.