Time to Accept a Compliment

A surprisingly large number of people do not know how to accept a compliment. They have a mind-set that says something like, “I cannot possibly deserve positive feedback - anyone who pays me a compliment must be misguided, lying or feeling sorry for me”. But, is this really true? Of course not! You not only have the right to accept compliments and feel good about yourself, but also the responsibility to accept a compliment that someone is giving you, graciously.

Why do we find it Hard to Accept Compliments?

So, why do we find it difficult to accept compliments? How do we combat our negative mind-set and learn to accept compliments? How do we use compliments to boost our confidence? And how do we take credit where it is due?

There are a number of reasons why we find it difficult to accept compliments. Two important reasons are:

  1. Because we are taught from a very early age that it is desirable to be humble and self-effacing. We are told that we must never be boastful or arrogant because ‘nice boys and girls’ do not exhibit such qualities.

To many people, accepting a compliment feels boastful.

While I agree that arrogance and boastfulness are not desirable qualities, we sadly often do not know where to draw the line between arrogance and self-confidence, or between boastfulness and pride in one’s own achievements.

Parents and teachers, in an effort to squash boastfulness in a child, often go too far. As a result, pride and confidence is squashed altogether.

When I was a grade two teacher, teaching 7-year olds, I saw this happen all too often. One child comes to mind readily. Bradley was an only child of doting parents. His reading ability was exceptional for his age – although he was only 7 years old, Bradley’s reading age was that of an 11-year old. His parents and I did all we could to encourage him to read and, as his teacher, I had to source his reading books from the senior primary school. When it came to reading, Bradley was in a league of his own and he was justifiably proud of it.

One day, another grade two teacher overheard some of the pupils talking. One of the pupils was telling the others how good Bradley was at reading and Bradley was agreeing and saying that he was reading grade six books. The pupils were impressed, but the teacher was not. This teacher regarded Bradley’s confidence and pride in his reading ability to be arrogant and boastful and so the teacher (in that teacher’s words, when she told us about the incident in the staff lounge) “took him down a peg or two”.

The teacher thought that what she had done was teach little Bradley an important lesson - but what she actually did was humiliate and degrade Bradley and destroy his confidence altogether.  Bradley came to find me that afternoon in tears. He was devastated. His parents and I had to work very hard to rebuild his confidence, but I am not sure we ever really succeeded. Bradley never spoke about his reading ability again and did not accept a compliment about his reading after that incident.

Little Bradley had learned his ‘lesson’ – what he learned was don’t accept a compliment, don’t be proud of yourself; never ever tell anyone you are good at anything. What a tragedy!

Parents and teachers should strive to build up children’s confidence, not squash it. We should teach children that it is good to accept compliments and take credit where it is due. By teaching children to accept compliments we allow children to feel justifiably proud of themselves and we teach children that it is good to feel proud of oneself for a special skill, ability or job well done. Being able to reward one’s self is a really valuable skill and it is far healthier to be able to reward one’s self than always need some external, tangible reward like sweets, a toy or an appliance. As adults we need to be able to self- reward.

2. Some people find it tough to accept compliments because they have a Submissive Communication Style and people who are submissive tend to:

  1. Refuse compliments;
  2. Opt out;
  3. Feel like a victim;
  4. Avoid any confrontation;
  5. Blame others for events;
  6. Be inexpressive (of their feelings and desires);
  7. Find difficulty in taking responsibility or decisions;
  8. Be apologetic (feel as if they are imposing when they ask for what they want);
  9. Yield to someone else's preferences (and discount their own rights and needs).

Although people with this communication style believe they are easy going and helpful, in actual fact they are not easy going at all and leave people around them feeling:

  1. Exasperated (you never know exactly how they feel  nor what they want);
  2. Frustrated (because they opt out of decision making);
  3. Guilty (because you feel as if you are forcing your own decisions upon them);
  4. Resentful of the low energy surrounding the submissive person;
  5. Helpless – so they eventually give up trying to help because their efforts are subtly or overtly rejected all the time.

I believe that people with the Submissive Communication Style will benefit from attending an assertiveness course where they will learn to:

  1. Be more open, clear and honest with others.
  2. Ask for what they want, or say no to what they don’t want, in a way that is respectful of themselves and others. 
  3. Accept compliments from others.

This enables others to know where they stand and respond openly and honestly in return.

For details of my course in assertiveness, please visit my How to Stand up for Yourself course page.

If you would like to read more about the Submissive Communication Style, please click here to read my article The Five Communication Styles

Why do we Sometimes Feel That we Don’t Deserve Compliments?

There are many reasons why we sometimes feel we do not deserve a compliment. Sometimes it is appropriate not to accept a compliment because:

  1. We really didn’t put in our best effort – and we know it;
  2. We really didn’t do enough work – we could have done more and we know it;
  3. Someone else gave us the idea or did most of the work, and we know we don’t actually deserve the credit.

Most of the time, however, it is our beliefs about ourselves that get in the way and stop us from accepting compliments. We hear these beliefs in our head talk.

Head talk is that little voice in our head that just doesn’t stop talking. It tells us what our strengths and weaknesses are, what we are capable – or incapable - of achieving, and what we ought or ought not to be doing. It censors what other people tell us – agreeing or disagreeing according to its own pre-determined standards.

Most of us are not even consciously aware of the voice because we are so used to it. It is just there in the background, telling us what it has always told us. Things like…“You shouldn’t be doing this”; “You’re really not good enough”; “You are going to make a fool of yourself”; “You don’t deserve this”; “This compliment cannot possibly be true”; “They don’t mean that – they are only being polite” and so on.

Our head talk influences our self-esteem. If our head talk is positive, we have high self-esteem. We think good things about ourselves, we like ourselves and we think we are worthy. If our head talk is negative, we have low self-esteem. We think poorly of ourselves, we don’t like ourselves and we think we are useless, worthless and not good enough.

The sad thing about our self-esteem is that it is self-perpetuating - we only see or believe what we expect to see or believe about ourselves and this has an impact on whether we allow ourselves to accept compliments or not.

For example:

If someone believes they are a good cook, they will readily accept the compliments, praise and acknowledgment they get for cooking a great meal – because they believe they are good.  If the meal happens to be a disaster and they get complaints, they will just write if off to a once off disaster, a bad recipe or perhaps even say the guests were just too fussy. They just won’t believe it is their own lack of ability.

On the other hand, if someone has low self-esteem they will only see and believe those things that prove they are useless. Even if they do cook a great meal, they won’t believe their guests’ compliments and will maintain their low self-esteem by saying things like: “Oh they are only being polite / they have to say that / they don’t really mean it / it wasn’t me, it was the fool-proof recipe” etc. 

What Does one do About This?

It helps to remember that the most important judgement you will ever have to pass in life is the judgement you make on yourself. So, it is important to catch your head talk and question the validity of your beliefs.

Review the set of beliefs you have about yourself and create new ones that are more positive.

You may need some help doing this as our beliefs are mostly unconscious, so have a few sessions with a psychologist. Then create new beliefs that do allow you to believe in yourself and accept that others believe in you too and do mean the compliments they give you.

A good idea to help you create new head talk is to write down a list of affirmations about yourself and pin these somewhere where you can read them every day. Keep adding to your list.

An affirmation is a positive statement about yourself that you write in the present tense. For example: “I am confident”; “I am warm and loving”; “I am funny”. The idea behind reading these affirmations every day is that you replace the negative head talk with positive head talk.

Another good idea is to write your down compliments and read them from time to time. It takes effort to remember a verbal compliment so that you can later write it down (in a special notebook or in a folder on your electronic device) which makes you focus on your compliment and so ‘take it in’.  In this way you are ‘forced’ to acknowledge the compliment.  You can do the same if someone gives you a written compliment. Write the date, occasion, name of the person who gave you a compliment and of course the compliment.  Read it again from time to time.

Why is it Important That we Accept Compliments?

As mentioned above, when we are able to accept compliments it helps us to change our negative head talk into positive head talk. This, in turn, helps us to improve our self-esteem. That is, when we have high self-esteem we think we are capable and worthy - and this belief, of course, gives us confidence both at work and in social situations.

When we are confident we achieve. So many people tell us in so many ways that ‘what we believe is what we achieve’. Napoleon Hill said: “Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it canachieve.” I too believe this. I believe that what we focus on is what we get… our thoughts create our reality.

This is not a new concept - we have heard it all our lives. Remember when you were learning a ball game – if you wanted to hit the ball with your bat or your racket, you were always told to “watch the ball”.  When you were trying for a goal you were told to look at the goal – not the ball. In other words, what you focus on is what you get.

The things we tell ourselves in our head are extremely important. What you focus on is what you get, so focus on the positive compliments that you receive… and believe them - then you can be them!

How can we Train Ourselves to Stop Deflecting Compliments?

We deflect compliments in all sorts of ways by thinking or saying things like:

  1. Oh, they are only being polite”;
  2. They have to say that” ;
  3. They don’t really mean it”;
  4. It wasn’t me - it was the fool-proof recipe, the help I got”, etc.

To train yourself to stop deflecting compliments, you need to understand the beliefs you have about yourself and catch your head talk.  By “catch your head talk”, I mean become aware of your head talk. When you catch your negative head talk you can choose to respond to the giver of the compliment in a positive way, rather than a negative way.

For example you can say a simple “thank you”, or you can positively acknowledge the compliment by saying something like: “Oh, how kind of you to say so. You have made my day”, or “I appreciate the feedback, it makes all the hard work worthwhile”. 

In the long-term we need to change our head talk to allow us to believe in ourselves and the compliments we receive. In the short-term, however, we can start small and build up to becoming totally comfortable with a compliment. Over a period of a few weeks or months one can do the following:

Step one:

Do what you have always been told to do when you are given a compliment – just say “thank you” and smile. Don’t say anything else at all. 

Step two:

Say “thank you” and smile. Don’t say anything else at all. Repeat the compliment in your head. 

Step three:

Say “thank you” and smile. Don’t say anything else at all. Repeat the compliment in your head.

Now remind yourself that the person who gave you the compliment really does believe what they said about you. Savour that knowledge. Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling that someone thinks well of you. Ignore the negative head talk going on in your head. (That little voice telling you the compliment is rubbish). 

Step four:

Do as above and this time tell yourself that what they said about you is true. Change the negative head talk to positive head talk – tell yourself the compliment is true. Savour the feeling.

Step five:

Do all the above and now also respond verbally to the speaker with more than just “thank you”. After taking a moment to think about the compliment and to savour it, thank them for the compliment and give them some positive comment.

For example: If you are given a compliment about your dress say: “Thank you for the compliment. Yes, this is one of my favourite dresses.” Or “Thank you. I appreciate your saying so; you have brightened my day”.

If you are given a compliment about your work say: “Thank you. I appreciate your feedback. Yes, I have worked hard on this project. I am glad you are pleased with the result.”

Treat the compliments you receive like treasures – look after them carefully. Start writing down all the compliments you receive. Every few weeks read the compliments over again.  Know they are true and savour them. Hold the treasures in your heart. It will give you a real boost!

What can we do to Become More Comfortable With Accepting Compliments?

Repeat positive affirmations in your head. An affirmation is a positive statement about yourself that you write in the present tense. For example: “I am confident”; “I am warm and loving”; “I am funny”.

When it comes to compliments say things to yourself like:

  1. I deserve compliments / I deserve that compliment;
  2. I am worthy of being complimented;
  3. It is ok for me to accept a compliment;
  4. I love receiving compliments;
  5. Compliments make me feel good / wonderful / special.

Then, when you are given a compliment, allow yourself to bask in the good feeling it brings you.

Remind yourself that even if you don’t really believe it, the person giving you the compliment does believe it.

Accepting Compliments in Different Situations - Practical Tips

With all compliments do not say anything at all unless it is a positive acknowledgement of the compliment. Appreciate the compliment and savour it in your heart.

1. At the workplace, your boss compliments a project you’ve done. What should we say or do? What should we avoid doing?

“Thank you John, I really appreciate your feedback.”

“Thank you. Coming from you it means a lot to me.”

“Thank you for telling me. I have worked hard on it and I appreciate your telling me you noticed.”


  1. Never dismiss a compliment from your boss. If you are lucky enough to have a boss who compliments you, you are lucky indeed! Savour it – it is your reward.
  2. Never take credit for something that is not yours to take. If others really were involved acknowledge them too. Say something like, “Thank you John.  Elizabeth and James were involved in this too. I will let them know that you are pleased with the result.”
  3. Pointing out the flaws or problems with the project. Even if there are problems, they can be raised later.

2. At home, your family compliments you on how well you are doing in life. What should we say or do? What should we avoid doing?

“Thanks mom! It means a lot to me that you are proud of me.”

“Hey dad, I know it is not easy for you to say that, so I am really grateful for those words.”

“Thanks so much. It is very special that you as my family think that of me. Thank you for telling me.”


  1. Dismissing the compliment because it is just your family. Their opinion is just a worthwhile as a friend or colleagues opinion.
  2. Making them work to give you the compliment, because you say something like “Ah, you are just saying that because I am your daughter, sister, mother “etc.

3. One of your friends compliments your outfit. How should we react? What should we avoid doing?

“Thanks Mary. I appreciate your saying so.”

“Thanks so much, it means a lot to me your saying that.”

“Thank you, I am pleased you noticed.”

“Oh, thank you so much. Yes it is new and I am so pleased you think I look good in it.”


  1. Do not deflect it, do not avoid it and do not dismiss it. If you can’t trust yourself not to deflect, avoid or dismiss the compliment then just say “Thank you” and smile.

4. What if a stranger compliments us? How do we react and what can we say? And what should we avoid doing?

“Gosh, thank you so much for saying so – I really appreciate the compliment.”

“Thank you – you have just made my day.”

“Thank you – you have really brightened up my day / evening.”

“What a kind thing to say. Thank you.”


  1. Thinking they have some sinister ulterior motive / are coming ‘on’ to you.  Just accept the compliment at face value.
  2. Do not deflect it, do not avoid it and do not dismiss it. If you can’t trust yourself not to deflect, avoid or dismiss the compliment then just say “Thank you” and smile.
  3. Turing it into a long, heavy discussion by asking their opinion on something. For example, “Oh, do you really think so? But what about this red scarf, do you really think it goes with this blouse? I am not so sure…”

These practical tips were written by myself and used in an article for Cosmopolitan Magazine – October 2013. If you would like to read the full Cosmopolitan article click here.