Tuesday, 7 March 2017

How To Take A Compliment by Dawn Finch

Am I going to have to spell it out for you?
I have something very serious to chastise you all for. I’m sorry, but it has to be said. You creative types are absolute rubbish at accepting praise and compliments, and it has to stop.
I have noticed this is an increasing problem that is possibly exacerbated by the rise of the instant contact afforded to us by social media. This means that we are sharing our work live (as it were) and giving people the opportunity to comment on it directly. This in turn means that, on the whole, people are saying nice things about your work and you don’t know how to handle it. This usually results in conversations that go something like this…

Them - “Wow, I love that illustration / painting / poem / book!”
You –  “Oh it’s not the colour/ shade / tone/ quality / depth that I’d like.”
Them – “I think it’s absolutely beautiful”
You –  “I really wanted it to be bluer/ greener / bigger/ darker / paler / deeper / stronger…”

You get the idea. I have noticed that this inability to accept well-deserved praise with ease is definitely worse among creative types, but it is by no means limited to them.

Psychologists have studied this inability to accept compliments or praise, and many have come to the conclusion that it stems from a number of issues from lack of self-esteem to imposter syndrome. One of the reasons we find it so hard to accept compliments, is that we almost never give them to ourselves. Think about it, when was the last time you said to yourself “That’s my finest work” or “damn it, that’s good”?

Psychologist Guy Winch has written and spoken extensively about the science of emotional health, and he says that we are bad at accepting compliments because they directly challenge the image that we have created of ourselves. He states that receiving praise from others when we feel negatively about ourselves “elicits discomfort because it conflicts with our existing belief system.” This means we often negate or dismiss compliments.

This has two effects:
  1. We carry even more negative feelings than we had before
  2. We indirectly insult the person who has given the compliment

So, how do we deal with this?

The answer to that conundrum is quite simple – just say thank you. That’s it. Thank you.
You can dress it up a bit to suit yourself, but don’t add anything that will drag your thanks back to a negative place. Add-ons like “you didn’t have to” or “I really don’t think so” are actually very annoying to the person complimenting you.  Remember that in all conversations there is another real human being on the other side. The person complimenting you may well have struggled with their own self-esteem. They may be thanking you for your part in making them feel better about who they are. If we diminish their compliment with a “you really didn’t have to”, then the next time they might not bother, and we may make them question themselves more.

The most important things is – YOU’RE REALLY WORTH IT! If someone compliments your work, it’s usually not because they want anything more from you than your appreciation of their compliment. You genuinely have touched someone with your work and that has compelled them to reach out to a stranger and thank them. You have earned that compliment. Your work has inspired someone to reach out to you, and that's a very powerful thing. You did that. You put your work into the world and it had a positive impact on someone's life. 

In a world increasingly led by anger and spite, it is important that we cherish and protect the gift of complimenting each other. With our social media threads so often full of people talking about the things that they hate, we should nurture and encourage those who talk about the things that they love. These are the glittering diamonds in the heap of coal.

With that in mind, the next time someone gives you a compliment, repeat these simple steps

Step one - say “Thank you!”

Step two - allow yourself to take that compliment and enjoy it.

Dawn Finch is a children's writer, librarian and general know-it-all who is often found wittering (and twittering) about things like reading, libraries, literacy, children's books, diversity and inclusion, mental health and wellbeing.
If you want to compliment her on anything you can do so via her blog, website or twitter account.
She is also very poor and would like you to buy her books and be awfully nice about them.
Thank you!


Susan Price said...

A very interesting post - thank you. (And now you thank me.)

I have often read through something I've written and thought, "Damn, I'm good!" A few hours later this is qualified. There's always something to improve. Still, it's a happy moment.

But I had to learn the 'Just say 'thank you,' rule. After all, if someone honestly compliments your work because they enjoyed it, it's churlish to start saying, "Well, it isn't really very good." It insults their taste.

I know exactly where my difficulty in accepting compliments came from and it's not exactly lack of self-esteem. It stemmed from a childhood where any satisfaction with yourself or anything you'd done was instantly slapped down as 'being big-headed' or 'showing off.' It's hard to overcome.

Dawn Finch said...

That's definitely a big problem for lots of people Susan. I was raised to not be "up myself" too. I think I'm one of those people who worry that they are delusional and the work is actually rubbish. That's part of the ebb and flow of my depression - sometimes I'm queen of the world, sometimes I'm dirt on my own shoes. I have to remind myself of this often.

Dawn Finch said...

Oh, and THANK YOU!

Val Tyler said...

I never believe the praise, only the criticism. I will practise saying, Thank you.

Sue Purkiss said...

Yes, as Sue says - being big-headed was about the worst crime you could commit at my junior school.

Ann Turnbull said...

I used to always do that self-deprecating thing, but some years ago I read a piece in a magazine that said exactly what you are saying, Dawn - so I started saying "thank you", and honestly it really is so much easier; you don't feel embarrassed, and the other person is pleased. A coincidence: just after reading your blog this morning I went for a walk, and was passing a primary school when the children were out playing. A little girl near the fence called out to me, "You look nice!" So I said all that needed to be said: thank you!

Hilary Hawkes said...

Yes, well said. I've read stuff on why we do this too. Like others I was raised with a weird message that said I wasn't worthy of compliments. Interestingly, I would be dismayed if my own children felt like that. Thinking about it I don't think they do thank goodness! These days, if I do get a compliment, I can usually say thank you. Sometimes there is a bit of a perfectionist thing going on too for a lot of people.

Penny Dolan said...

I totally agree with you, Dawn, but I do find reacting positively a hard thing to do or to believe in the praise. I feel the deflection is almost a superstitious defence, turning away the praise before the presumption that you might deserve it attracts the expected onslaught. But the response does, now you mention it, seem rude and ungrateful. Another example of the British/English "tall poppies" syndrome?

Thank you for encouraging me to think on this, Dawn - and Ann, thanks for your inspiring example.

Sue Bursztynski said...

It doesn't happen often to me, so when it does, I simply smile and enjoy it. :)

Anne Booth said...

This is a lovely post. Thank you! And I think it is absolutely right.

Stroppy Author said...

This is good advice - thank you! I think we all have an ideal of what we are trying to achieve with a piece of work - a sort of Platonic form of the book/picture/song/whatever - and we will never create something that actually lives up to that ideal. So all our work looks flawed to us. But the audience has not been party to that perfect vision so they don't see the faults we do, and that's something to be grateful for. It's not good to diminish a person's enjoyment of your work by pointing out its flaws. That's unkind. It's rather like when you are choosing a present for someone and look at lots of things and are uncertain you've chosen the right one - the recipient hasn't seen the alternatives so they will like it or not on its own merits.

I try to add something to 'thank you', such as 'I'm so glad you like it', or 'that's great to hear - it means so much to know people like it', because that makes the complimenter feel good about having complimented and so more likely to compliment the next work they like :-)

Lynne Benton said...

Thank you, Dawn, for a really inspiring post, and one which I shall do my best to remember. It sounds as if all (well, all right, maybe most) writers doubt themselves and don't feel worthy of compliments, so it's a salutary lesson to think about the person paying the compliment.