Inside: Exactly how to accept a compliment without clamming up, turning beet red, or undervaluing yourself.
A few weeks ago, after receiving a compliment on a project I’d been slaving over for weeks, I found myself exhibiting several symptoms of imposter syndrome.
What’s impostor syndrome, you ask?
It’s when a colleague compliments your work on a report, and you point out the fact that you missed a single typo on page 14.
It’s when the stranger at Starbucks says she likes your outfit, and you say, “Thanks, but look at the terrible hair day I’m having!”
It’s when a fellow mom notes how well-behaved your son is, and you insist that he’s never usually this good (even though he actually is).
It’s when a friend congratulates you on a recent success, and you blush and chalk it all up to good luck.
A lot of successful women suffer from impostor syndrome in everything from their careers to their clothes to their kids. “I don’t deserve this,” we think. “They’re saying I’m good enough, but I know I’m really not.”
One way to tell if you’re suffering from impostor syndrome is to question if you really know how to accept a compliment graciously.
If you clam up, start squirming, and turn beet red when someone compliments you, you’re probably infected. If you immediately redirect the conversation or—even worse—counteract the compliment by insisting you can’t accept credit or that it was all a fluke, get thee to the doctor. You’ve got a bad case of impostor syndrome.
Thankfully there’s a cure, and the treatment regimen begins with healthier responses to those awesome accolades you get.
How to Accept a Compliment: 4 Ways To Respond Graciously
1. Say “thank you.” Nothing else.
For those who have been struck by impostor syndrome, the phrase “thank you” is almost always followed by the word “but.”
Thank you, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Thank you, but I probably could have done better. Thank you, but I think I just got lucky. And on and on and on.
To start the path to recovery, try biting your tongue before you say “but.”
2. Share an interesting detail.
Too many women respond to a compliment by downgrading the very quality for which they’re being praised. That’s not how to accept a compliment!
Someone compliments our shoes and we jump to tell them how old they are, as if we couldn’t possibly be up-to-date with the latest trends. Someone congratulates us on a promotion and we immediately counter that the better candidate dropped out of the race.
A better approach? Offering the complimenter an extra tidbit of information that tells a more complete story—sans self-degredation.
So for the shoes, your usual response of “You mean this old pair?” becomes “They were a thoughtful gift from my aunt, and wearing them always makes me think of her.” Likewise, for the promotion, any mention of the competition gets replaced with, “I actually rehearsed for the interview in front of the mirror!”
3. Ask a question.
This one’s downright practical. When someone gives you kudos, see if you can get them to elaborate a bit; their feedback might be really useful for future endeavors.
For example, when your co-worker says, “I loved your article!” you thank her and then ask what in particular she liked about it. Or when your friend exclaims that she loves the paint color you chose for your living room, see if she has any suggestions for artwork that might pair nicely.
4. Return the love.
Saying thank you is polite, but also offering some flattery of your own is polite and thoughtful. The point of doing so isn’t to diminish your achievement in any way; rather, it simply serves to start a conversation in which both parties are appreciated and celebrated.
It can be as simple as saying something like, “I was just admiring your outfit as well!” Or my personal favorite: Complimenting the compliment itself. “Thanks for saying my daughter’s a great listener. That’s about the nicest thing you can say to a mom!” Now that’s how to accept a compliment graciously!
As Jessica Valenti once wrote, “Confidence is not just about believing in the good in ourselves, but about believing in the good that others see in us.”
If you constantly feel like you’re not good enough or that you don’t deserve whatever great things have come your way in life, try changing the way you respond to the compliments you undoubtedly receive.
You might just find that when you stop undervaluing yourself, you discover you’re not an impostor at all. Just a genuinely amazing human being.