How Do You Accept a Compliment?

Accepting compliments helps to boost self-esteem.
People with social anxiety have trouble accepting compliments. Floresco Productions / Getty Images

If you live with social anxiety disorder (SAD), you probably have a hard time gracefully accepting and giving compliments.

If someone comments on something positive about you, your tendency is probably to be dismissive and downplay the positive attribute. For example, if a work colleague tells you that you did a good job on a project, you might respond with "Well, anyone could have done what I did."

These types of responses only serve to further erode your confidence. In essence, you are saying that you don't value your work, your appearance, your home—or whatever else you receive a compliment about.

How to Respond to Compliments

The four steps for accepting compliments are as follows:

  1. Say thank you. Thank you is enough, even if you can't think of anything else to say. Try not to pause too long before saying thank you or your sincerity might be questioned.
     
  2. If you can think of one, add a positive comment, such as, "I put a lot of effort into this project," or, "I spent a long time choosing the color scheme for this room."
     
  3. When possible, return the compliment with a comment such as, "I really appreciate that coming from you because I respect your opinion so much."
     
  4. To take it one step further, use a conversation opener such as "I've been meaning to ask you how you would have handled..." or "I wanted to ask your opinion about..."

    Sample Scenario

    Sarah is attending a holiday party at her new office. To get ready for the event, she makes an appointment at a hair salon and is convinced to try a new style. The result—she is actually feeling pretty good about how she looks in spite of her anxiety about attending the event.

    However, as she walks into the party, a fellow colleague greets her and immediately says, "I love your new hairstyle!" Embarrassed by the attention, Jessica pauses and eventually replies, "You think so? I am not sure if I will keep it this way"

    For people with SAD, scenarios like the one above are probably not far off from reality. If you have a tendency of responding negatively to compliments, it will take practice to learn a better way to react.

    How could Sarah have responded in a more positive way to her colleague's compliment? Something like the following would have shown grace toward the compliment giver and helped to boost Sarah's self-esteem at the same time:

    "Thank you, I really like the style too—I just had it done. I really appreciate the compliment coming from you, your hair always looks amazing."

    What if you wanted to carry the conversation even further? She could have added something like the following:

    "I went to the Hair Station downtown. What salon do you go to?"

    Compliments can be great ways to start conversations. If someone offers you a compliment, that is an excellent sign that he or she wants to get to know you better and will be receptive to conversation openers such as the one above.

    Compliments and Social Anxiety Disorder

    If your social anxiety is getting in the way of giving or receiving compliments, it may be worth talking to a mental health professional to see if underlying anxiety is preventing you from participating in this important social exchange.

    Sources:

    Ahrens LM, Mühlberger A, Pauli P, Wieser MJ. Impaired visuocortical discrimination learning of socially conditioned stimuli in social anxiety. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015;10(7):929-937. doi:10.1093/scan/nsu140.

    Lissek S, Levenson J, Biggs AL, et al. Elevated fear conditioning to socially relevant unconditioned stimuli in social anxiety disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2008;165(1):124-132. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.06091513.

    Trunk P. Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. New York: Business Plus; 2007.

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