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Accepting Compliments

December 23, 2010 | by Emuna Braverman

It’s important to know how to give. It’s just as important to know how to receive.

When my husband compliments my looks, I make a face. When he compliments my actions, I respond dismissively. Sometimes when he sings my praises, I even respond aggressively or with hostility, “Well, dinner should taste good. You know how many hours I spent shopping and cooking!”

What I rarely do is respond graciously. What I rarely do is what my husband suggests, “Just say thank you.”

Much has been written about the difficulty that women have in accepting compliments. I don’t want to rehash that issue. What I want to suggest is that accepting a compliment – particularly with a smile and gratitude – may be just as much of a kindness to the speaker as giving the compliment was meant to be to you.

It can be hurtful and thoughtless or, at the very least, confusing to someone who is trying to be kind to us when we are dismissive of their words. (And of course, in one of those classic neurotic paradoxes, if they don’t notice and compliment us, we get angry with them!)

It is not good for our relationships to be ungracious in the receiving of compliments, whether it comes from a place of false or true modesty.

In learning to accept compliments, we need to take a step backwards. It starts with the presentation. In one of Julia Child’s letters to her friend, Avis DeVoto, she suggests that “…the young hostess should be advised never to say anything about what she serves, in the way of 'Oh, I don’t know how to cook, and this may be awful,' or 'poor little me,' or 'this didn’t turn out'…etc. etc. It is so dreadful to have to reassure one’s hostess that everything is delicious, whether or not it is.”

Not accepting a compliment is demeaning and diminishing to the one who gave it.

Perhaps your guests or family members should thank you no matter how it tastes but you don’t want to force them into it. You don’t want to put anyone in that awkward position. We can be conflicted in our attitude towards compliments, disdaining the ones that are sincerely offered and then fishing for the ones that aren’t.

We need to try to take our ego out of the picture. Whether it’s insecurity or something else, not accepting a compliment is demeaning and diminishing to the one who gave it. Are her words irrelevant? Do we not take her opinion seriously? Is our view the only one that counts?

Or are we so steeped in our internal world that we don’t notice how our reaction affects those around us? It may be ironic but it is true. It is inconsiderate to be ungracious in the receiving of praise. (How’s that for a guilt trip?)

It’s a total reframe to focus on the speaker and not on ourselves. Instead of pushing play on those old tapes that spin in our heads when we receive a compliment (all those variations on “you don’t deserve it”), we need to focus on the other person. How can we make them feel good? How can we demonstrate that we appreciate their kind words?

It definitely begins with saying thank you. And if we can just accomplish that – especially with a smile, then we can praise ourselves for the achievement.

But we can go one step further… “Thank you for noticing; I’ve been working hard at losing weight.” “Thanks so much; I just bought this outfit and I wasn’t sure if it really suited me.” “That was so kind of you; it’s hard to be objection about our own children.” “Wow, you really have a sophisticated palate; I forgot that I even threw that spice in.”

It’s important to know how to give. It’s just as important to know how to receive. They are both opportunities for kindness. And they begin with just saying thank you.

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