On Receiving Well: How to Accept a Compliment

Recently, my sister pointed out a flaw of mine. Someone had complimented me on my outfit and I responded with a self-deprecating joke along the lines of “oh, this old thing!” As we were walking away, she told me, “You know, you always deflect compliments. You need to work on that.”

It’s something I didn’t even realize I was doing — and once I started to notice it in myself, I realized so many other people (usually women) do it as well. I began to see how it’s actually rude to the person who is giving the compliment — because in refusing to receive it, I’m not appreciating their acknowledgments of my gifts, in this case, my style.

In recognizing I need to work on receiving compliments, I first had to become aware of how I brush them off or shut them down. My go-to response is usually something like “Nah, that’s nice, but you don’t know what really happens,” or “Oh no way, not me!”

Since responding this way has become a force of habit, I’ve consciously been using three strategies to help me become better at receiving compliments from others — and I wanted to share them in case it’s something you struggle with too.

1. Take a moment and listen

I have a tendency to be quick to reply when someone compliments me. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction. So, I’m learning to slow down and take it in; I try to really listen to what the person is saying about me and not instantly react by deflecting. A big part of this is making eye contact and not feeling the need to instantly compliment the person back. It’s about allowing myself to really receive their kind words.

2. Reply with something more than just “thanks”

This may feel awkward, but sometimes quickly saying “thank you” can be dismissive as well. When someone says “You look nice in that sweater,” and I reply with an instant “Thanks!” to move the conversation forward and off of me. Instead, by telling the person thank you AND elaborating a bit, it gives full acknowledgement to the kind words being sent my way, For example, if someone compliments my presentation at work, I might say: “Thank you, I put a lot of hard work into it.”

3. Start complimenting others and observe how they reply

This exercise has been huge for me in changing my own behavior. I notice how it feels a little rude when someone dismisses my compliments now — and I also take note of how kind and loving it feels like when someone fully accepts one. It’s been helpful for me to see how different people respond and really pay attention. I experimented by giving compliments to the people I run into throughout the day, from my neighbor to the postal worker to my barista. Noticing how it feels when someone receives or dismisses a compliment has helped me better receive them when I’m on the other side.

The biggest bonus of learning to take a compliment is the boost in self-confidence. When I really notice what other people think is great about me, then I start to notice what I like about myself too — and it changes how I feel about myself by making me more grateful and focused on the positive. 


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