I don't get a lot of them -- which I like to use as an excuse -- but I suck at taking compliments. Especially in person. Which is odd, because we crave praise and recognition, but none of us get enough of it. So I quickly shift the conversation.
Because compliments make me uncomfortable.
Turns out I'm not alone. Research conducted by Christopher Littlefield on praise and recognition shows that while 88 percent of respondents associate feeling valued with recognition, nearly 70 percent also "associate embarrassment or discomfort with the process of being recognized."
So yeah: We like praise, but we also kinda don't.
That's especially true if you're like me and your self-esteem isn't particularly strong. (Hi, imposter syndrome!) A 2010 study published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that people with low self-esteem struggle to accept compliments because they doubt their sincerity: Not only do they feel embarrassed, they assume they're somehow being patronized. (It's hard to feel praise is sincere when you yourself don't believe the things you do are praiseworthy.)
And then there's this: A 2015 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that some people shrug off compliments because they hope to avoid having the bar set higher in the future; think of it as the "If I did well this time, you'll expect me to perform at the same level next time" syndrome. (That one doesn't apply to me. I have higher standards for myself than anyone sets for me, which unfortunately still causes me to struggle to take compliments: You might think I did something well, but I always think I should have done better.)
All of which leads to me being the king of the -- sometimes unspoken but always thought -- "Thanks, but ..." response.
"Thanks, but it took me longer than it should have." "Thanks, but there are a few things I wish I had done differently." "Thanks, but I got lucky."
"Thanks, but ..." lets me deflect. And feel less embarrassed. And feel less unworthy. Basically, I'm afraid to think the praise might be genuine. And sincere.
And, hard as it is to believe, applicable to me.
Which is a sucky way for me to behave, because praise means as much to the giver as it should to the recipient.
At a fundamental level, praise is a gift, and we all like to feel appreciated when we offer a gift.
So when you fend off a compliment, you also fend off the gift.
And ruin the opportunity for the other person to feel good about themselves.
Which is reason enough to start saying, "I really appreciate it. Thanks!"
And mean it.