It's only right that hard work, skill and commitment are rewarded with praise and gratitude. So why is it so difficult for some of us to graciously accept the recognition that we deserve?
Recently, it occurred to me that there's a lot of advice out there on how to give praise and positive feedback to a hard worker, but very little advice on how to receive these morale-boosting messages.
Accepting praise can make many people feel shy and uncomfortable – often because, even when we feel proud of our achievements, we don't want to appear egotistical.
Rather than accepting praise with polite grace, we'll often sheepishly reject the compliment, or even deny it entirely, changing the conversation as quickly as possible. After all, no one likes a bragger.
This is exactly how I felt at my dad’s 50th birthday party, just a few days after I had received my university results.
My parents were so proud of me that, on arrival, every single guest already knew my grades. As the party went on, dozens of people I didn’t know greeted me with warm, heartfelt congratulations. It was as if they were there to celebrate me!
I was baffled and a little overwhelmed by so much unexpected praise – especially from strangers!
Concerned about stealing my dad’s spotlight, and also starting to wilt under the sustained praise, I tried to deflect the kind compliments and blend into the background. I joked that the examiner must have been in a very generous mood when she marked my paper, and that I was just "lucky."
To say anything else would be narcissistic, I thought. My impressive grades had absolutely nothing to do with my three years’ hard work and dedication, I assured everyone. Pure coincidence.
There seems to be an unwritten rule (particularly in British culture) that the moment you accept praise is the moment you stop deserving it. It’s better to appear overly modest than overly self-confident… right?
Praise can tap into many of our insecurities and worries.
Few of us wish to appear vain and immodest. We may worry that our accolade will provoke envy in others. Or, we might feel that the achievement has been exaggerated or overblown – OK, I did well, but it wasn’t that special or important!
In the workplace, there’s the fear that with praise might come extra work and higher expectations. Now that your boss has seen how competent you are, they’re going to pile on the pressure!
Praise might also reinforce the sense of being an impostor. Many people feel like they’re a fraud and live in fear that one day they'll be "found out."
But, whatever our reasons, deflecting praise can also be perceived as arrogant, and even make our modesty seem little more than a pretense.
Imagine that your co-worker just completed an ultra-triathlon. Their family, friends and colleagues applaud them, but they just shrug it off like it was a walk in the park. Does this attitude seem to undermine the efforts and strain of the other participants, or imply that your co-worker believes that they possess the stamina of a comic-book superhero?
Finding the right balance between pride and vanity is the key to accepting praise gracefully. We needn’t fear what comes after praise: quite often, praise is simply its own reward, and respect is the only thing that follows.
Typically, it’s not the flattery itself that makes us feel bashful, but our own overthinking. If we dare to permit ourselves to enjoy a compliment, we may find it’s not so challenging after all!
A major contributor to our inhibitions around accepting praise is the culture of "constructive criticism."
In every one-on-one meeting or annual appraisal, we’ve all come to expect the dreaded "but" after hearing what we’ve done well. We’re more accustomed to hearing what we need to improve, rather than unqualified praise.
How comfortable we feel when receiving recognition is also dependent on how it’s given – an announcement in front of 40-something co-workers (or party guests!) is enough to make any introvert shiver!
I’ve experienced the difficulties of celebrating achievement in many of my jobs. Having an "Employee of the Month," for example, can help to normalize praise in the workplace and generate motivation, but I’ve also seen how it can spark envy and competition.
A more relaxed approach to praise is having a "kudos" channel on a messaging platform. This allows everyone to share their gratitude toward other members with a little more intimacy and discretion.
But, ultimately, methods like these lack the impact of face-to-face praise. So, how can we accept praise in the right way?
Looking back, the affection I received at the party was humbling – people I hardly knew were showering me in admiration because they were genuinely impressed and pleased for me.
My degree hadn’t helped them in any way so there was no obligation to comment, but they still cared enough to say "well done." It was the sincerity that really touched me and made me feel like I had accomplished something spectacular.
Instead of dismissing the praise, I should have commented on how kind they were for noticing, or how pleased I was with my achievement.
Another good option is to "forward" praise – perhaps other people played a part in your success and deserve to share the attention. If you’re still lost for words, a simple "thank you" is the best way to go.
There is absolutely no shame in accepting praise. Genuine messages of admiration are only voiced to those who have earned them.
Someone saying, "You did really well," or, "We couldn’t have done it without you," has the power to boost your self-esteem and make you feel an inch taller.
Not only do the words carry a message of gratitude and recognition, but the thought behind them shows that your efforts are appreciated and not going unnoticed.
So, the next time you get the recognition you deserve, don't hide your pride – own your strengths and try to enjoy the moment. You deserve it!
How do you handle compliments? Have you created a "praise culture" in your workplace? Tell us about your experiences in the Comments, below!
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