Learning to Take Compliments

I admit it: I can’t take compliments.

I can’t accept the fact that someone likes something enough to tell me so. Are they saying that just to be nice? Do they not know that I can do better?

“That was a great presentation. Good job!”

Yeah, well, I just kind of threw it together. It was a little sloppy.

“I really admire what you’re doing. That takes a lot of guts.”

Thanks. I’m still kind of figuring things out. I don’t know what will happen.

“I like your latest article. Nice work.”

Yeah. I wasn’t sure how well it would go over. I don’t think I did a good job explaining everything.

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I graciously accept a compliment? Is it so hard to say, “Thank you! I really appreciate it!”? I probably wouldn’t say it with exclamation marks at the end, but the emphasis is important.

When someone goes out of their way to pay a compliment, they’re opening up. They’re making themselves vulnerable by sharing honest feelings, and that takes courage. So why downplay or marginalize their praise? That person will probably think twice next time.

I know this. And yet, I still shrug off positive feedback. Why?


Maybe it’s self-doubt. If I’m not confident about what I produce, then I think the compliments are insincere. I think I could have done a better job on something — but someone compliments me on it — so I wonder: how can they really mean that?


Maybe it’s fear. I’m scared that if I get excited and say, “Thank you,” people may think I’m arrogant. Being “humble” means I have to knock that praise down a few notches, right?


Or, maybe it’s the “perfectionist fallacy.” I thought I was super-clever and had just created a new term, but Google tells me I’m wrong. Apparently, this is “commonly” known as the “nirvana fallacy” — which is a MUCH better name. It basically means we think there’s a solution that is 100% perfect, so we reject anything that doesn’t meet that standard. Or, I don’t think the work I did was perfect, so I can’t accept your compliment.

Honestly, I have no idea. I’m not a shrink, and all of these reasons sound more like excuses. All the person wanted to do was tell me they appreciate my work, and I responded with a string of “yeah, but” comments. This isn’t what they signed up for.

We all care about positive feedback. We need to know that our boss appreciates the long hours we spent on the financial reports. And that the customer thought our presentation was exceptional. That our clients love the design ideas we came up with. So when those very same people open up and tell us we did a great job, we owe it to them (and ourselves) to believe them.

If we shrug off or explain away compliments, the conversation becomes about me and my issues, when it began with them expressing their appreciation. They’re telling us they got value from something we did, and isn’t that what we ultimately want? Besides, no one likes the person who flips every conversation and makes it about them.

But people do appreciate gratitude. So, from now on, I’m forcing myself to just say, “Thank you. I really appreciate it.” I’ll do this every time I receive a compliment.

I just hope that one day my brain catches up with my mouth.

3 Responses

  1. Interesting! I never really thought about it. But that is so true and believe it or not- I have felt that way many times. I would have to say for me it would be the self-doubt.
    Way to get your feelings into words, Brandon!

  2. Way to go Brandon!
    I love reading your blog. This article is simular to how I feel when given a compliment on something I wrote/created/designed. Perfectionist often feel that way….. It took me a long time to just say “thank you” and leave it at that.
    Keep up the good work.

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