Tell me if this sounds familiar. You work exceedingly hard. You’ve honed your skills. You know when you’ve done great work and take a quiet pride in it. And yet, the moment someone verbalizes it in the form of a compliment you hem and haw about how they didn’t need to say that and really it was nothing. You downplay you because accepting the compliment really makes you feel uncomfortable.
What’s our problem?
Luckily, Christopher Littlefield, founder of the Acknowledgement Works is an expert on the subject. Littlefield trains and coaches leaders in the effective use of recognition in the workplace. He has conducted over 350 street interviews around the globe trying to understand the human experience of giving and receiving recognition. Littlefield has found that while the number one thing that people associated recognition with is being valued, nearly 70-percent of people associate embarrassment or discomfort with the process of being recognized.
What type of response do you normally give to recognition?
- Do you actually hear the compliment or just laugh it off?
- Do you play a game of “compliment ping-pong”? Someone compliments your dress and you then feel obligated to compliment his or her attire.
- Do you pass credit? “It was a team effort!”
- Or downplay your success? “It was nothing, it wasn’t a big deal!”
- Say “thank you” but dismiss it in your head?
While Littlefield says there is nothing wrong with these typical reactions, they stem from past experiences with recognition; it’s not actually accepting the giver’s compliment. Recognition is often more about the giver than the receiver. When someone is complimenting you, they are sharing how your actions or behaviors impacted them. The key is to accepting recognition according to Littlefield, “is to relate to it as though it is a gift. When you divert it, it’s like we are taking that gift and throwing it back in their face.” Let them share that gift, if their compliment made a difference for you, express that. It will make their day for them to know they made yours.
The result is when we are uncomfortable with recognition, we avoid giving it and we avoid letting it in. When leaders are uncomfortable with recognition themselves, they can pass that standard on throughout their teams and organizations.
How to practice accepting recognition:
- Relate to recognition as though it were a gift.
- Become acutely aware of how you respond when people recognize you. Even if you think the person has an ulterior motive, just say, “thank you.” The more comfortable you become at accepting recognition, the more comfortable you will be with giving it.
- If you catch yourself diverting the compliment, it is never too late to go back and thank them. You can tell them, “I am working on being better on accepting compliments. Thank you for what you said earlier.”
- When others divert recognition, interrupt their conditioned response by calling them on it (in a friendly way). By doing this it helps them develop their ability to accept compliments.
You can learn more about Littlefield’s findings here.