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Taking a Compliment Like a Pro (And Being Better For It)

Taking a Compliment Like a Pro (And Being Better For It)

At Take This, we believe that hope is healing, and that others’ support can give hope and help people through the toughest times. While I suppose it’s possible I might eventually meet someone who is truly alone, but that’s yet to happen; everyone has people to support them. One of the biggest hurdles I see with people recognizing this support is they frequently discount or dismiss the positive things that others say about them. It’s easy to feel alone when you dismiss that support, so let’s talk about how to accept it when others offer.

 

“Yeahbuts”

Something some of my colleagues and I talk about is what we informally call the yeahbuts. Basically, if someone hears something complimentary or kind about them, they respond with, “Yeah, but…” and then proceed to justify why that that compliment or kindness is wrong or not very important. It’s an umbrella term for a whole slew of psychological terms (e.g. minimizing or negative attribution bias). This is not an uncommon thing to hear from the people I work with, and they’re often not even aware they’re doing it.

That’s tip number one: be aware. Listen to yourself. If you find yourself frequently saying things like, “Yeah, but…” or, “Actually…” when you talk with other people, pay attention to what kinds of things they say right before you say it. There may be a pattern. It may be that you’re denying good things about you. Once you notice a pattern, you can more consciously try to change it, difficult as that might be.

During the very first job I ever worked, I had a boss who also taught me to do metal sculptures. I wasn’t amazing, but he found things to honestly compliment, as good teachers will. When he did, he would drill the following into me: “When someone say something nice, say ‘thank you’ and nothing else.” And when I say drill it, I’m not exaggerating. He’d interrupt me frequently and correct me if I began to say anything else. It felt obscenely uncomfortable at first, because I didn’t want to seem arrogant by accepting something nice about myself, but it got easier over time.

 

What is Arrogance?

Arrogance is something that people are often concerned about. Arrogant people are often difficult to tolerate, and if someone already feels alone why would they want to drive people further away? Here’s the catch: accepting good things about yourself doesn’t make you arrogant. Some young adults I used to work with in Seattle came up with an amazing differentiation of what counts as healthy confidence, what is arrogance, and what is unhealthy self-doubt.

  • Arrogance is overestimating or overemphasizing one’s strengths and abilities while downplaying or denying weaknesses.
  • Unhealthy self-doubt is overestimating or overemphasizing one’s weaknesses while downplaying or denying strengths.
  • Healthy confidence is willingly acknowledging and accepting both strengths and weaknesses honestly.

Confident people have doubts and weaknesses, and while they don’t overpromote them to others, they also don’t deny them. Confident people don’t overpromote their strengths, but they honestly acknowledge them. While I’m no Terry Pratchett, it’s perfectly okay for me to say I’m a somewhat decent writer. After all, you’re reading this, so I must be doing something write.

See what I did there? I thought it was funny. Confidence.

 

Accepting What Others Say

Accepting what others say can be tricky, especially if you suffer from the yeahbuts. That said, it can be a very valuable thing to do, especially if you doubt yourself. There are times when others see the good things about us that we can’t. But how do you know when to listen? It’s super simple to assume people are just saying nice things because they are trying to be polite. Some people might be. The tricky part is that this requires trust and faith that certain people are going to be honest, yet supportive. I say “certain people” because it’s crippling to care equally about what everyone thinks. Pick and choose! Give some thought to whose opinions matter most, because listening to those opinions and accepting them requires trust and vulnerability.

Personally, I pick the people I believe care about me enough to be honest and critical when it’s in my best interest. I know for a fact that my wife, my best friend, my immediate family, and most of my closest friends would not hesitate to call me out if I was about to do something against my best interests. Not because they dislike me, but because they want the best for me and they sometimes see what I don’t. While this might mean I occasionally endure unpleasant scrutiny from them, it also means that I know they mean it when they compliment me. These are people who don’t just tell me what I want to hear to be polite. This also means that they sometimes say nice things at times when it’s not expected, and that’s another clue that they’re being honest. Incidentally, those are often the compliments I cherish most.

So how do you choose? Start paying attention to who in your social or family circles is willing to be both critical and complimentary. When they’re being critical, is it in a supportive manner? If you ask them their thoughts on something important, are they able to find both negative and positive aspects to it? These might be clues that you can take a chance on them and trust what they say about you, including the positive stuff.

 

Concluding Thoughts

While the above tips might help, they are not the only ways to get better at accepting support. Ask others what works for them. You should also remember that changing how we think takes a lot of work. Ask yourself, “How long have I practiced thinking this current way?” It’s likely that the answer is, “Years.” That isn’t meant to discourage you—quite the opposite. It’s meant to tell you that change can happen but likely not overnight, so give yourself some compassion and forgiveness in the learning process. If you keep at it, you can learn to hear compliments with acceptance and thanks. Until then, just keep drilling yourself.

(…Phrasing!)

 

Raffael Boccamazzo (AKA “Dr. B”) is a doctor of clinical psychology and clinical director of TakeThis.org. He also runs a private psychotherapy and psychological assessment practice in the Seattle area and works with several local groups as a social skills coach, often for older teens and young adults with high functioning autism spectrum diagnoses. In his spare time, he cooks, acts, and plays oodles of different tabletop and video games.

Take This is an informational organization. The resources we provide are for informational purposes only, and should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a health care or mental health care professional. For more information about these resources, please visit our website.

Feature Image Credit: Pixabay/Public Domain

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