Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Art of Accepting a Compliment

I’ll give you the only two things I know for sure about graciously accepting compliments: first, it’s very important. And second, I’m awful at it.

Before you think that this is going to be a very short blog post, here’s an observation from a delightful little book called Try Giving Yourself Away by David Dunn, first published in 1953.

“Sincere compliments are among the finest gifts in the world, the most hungered for and the most appreciated by nearly all of us. Yet how few of us have learned to receive a compliment gracefully. Instead, we too often clumsily bat it back by making an awkward disclaimer which spoils the pleasure for both parties.”

At this point in the book, I always suspect that Mr. Dunn must have been thinking of me, 60 years into the future, and chuckling in amusement. Because that’s kind of how I deal with compliments.

It goes something like this: someone says something nice to me about my dress or the duet I sang with my sister or the blog post I wrote, and I blush and say, “Oh, thanks. Um…hey, look over there! It’s a…wall. How ‘bout that, huh? So, what do you think about the weather today?”

If I’ve ever done this to you, I’m really sorry. Underneath my extroverted exterior, I’m actually surprisingly socially awkward. I promise you, whatever you said meant a lot to me. I just happen to show that in a strange way. Namely, dodging the compliment, probably with a pained expression, and ducking for cover.

Even I admit that this is a problem. This list of tips is pretty much comprised of what I don’t do (or do that I shouldn’t). Don’t you love tips like that? It gives you that comforting feeling that the author has no authority whatsoever to be giving advice.

The one good thing about the blind leading the blind is that both of them learn something about what not to do. So, for your reading pleasure, I give you…

The Definitive Guide on the Art of Accepting a Compliment
  • Honor the risk. Realize that it takes a little bit of interpersonal courage for someone else to compliment you, especially if that person is not your best friend or your mom. It comes easier to some than others, but I know I (again, being socially awkward) have a hard time getting up the nerve to appreciate someone to their face. If you think about the compliment that way, sometimes it helps you accept it. It’s a gift, not a bomb. You’re supposed to receive it graciously, not chuck it away before it blows up.
  • Stop minimizing and qualifying. So maybe you had a sore throat and your speech could have been better, or maybe you weren’t particularly impressed with your time for the race. But the other person clearly thinks you did a good job (or maybe they just think you’re pretty cool and want to praise what you do because of that, which is an even higher compliment).
  • Get rid of the guilt. Being attractive, talented, or whatever else is not the same thing as being proud. This is a hard one for me, because it’s true that thinking too highly of yourself can be dangerous. But God is the one who gave you that athletic ability or musical talent or sense of humor. Excellence brings Him joy. There’s no need to think that accepting a compliment is somehow sinful.
  • Examine your motives. Don’t purposely call attention to the good things you’re doing, and don’t expect compliments, because nothing ruins a compliment like cockiness. A few good questions to ask are, “Would I still do this if someone else got the credit instead of me?” or “Will I be disappointed if no one notices?” Most of the good in the world is unnoticed and unappreciated. That’s what makes it beautiful, and I think God recognizes that and will reward what we least expect in heaven.
  • Give back. No, this doesn’t mean firing back with a compliment of your own in a kind of appreciation shootout. That would feel really fake. But, knowing how much others’ praise means to you, you should do the same for others. This is also a good way to avoid pride, because if you’re focused on appreciating others, you’re not playing over your own reel of successes in your mind.

Finally, to everyone out there who’s taken a risk on my behalf by complimenting me for something: know that when I mumbled a half-understandable “thank you,” what I really meant was, “That means more to me than I can really explain, because you’re important to me and I secretly want to be more like you and I wasn’t even sure you noticed anything I did or said.”

On second thought, since I try to avoid scaring away everyone I meet, maybe just “Thank you” will work.

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