How To Accept A Compliment


Kate Harding points out a skill that often escapes even the most accomplished women: accepting compliments without self-deprecation. So how to acknowledge your awesomeness without being an ass?

Of course, taking a compliment well can be a delicate thing for men too. But women especially are socialized not to toot our own horns, and in our unwillingness to do so, we sometimes unintentionally reinforce the idea that women shouldn’t be proud of what they do. Harding writes about her friend, who responded to a compliment on her music thus: “Thanks. Yeah, I like to think I’m good at what I do. I could act all self-deprecating, but it is, you know… what I do.” Harding was initially surprised, but then realized “that what just happened was unusual and very cool: Two women had just had a conversation in which they admitted out loud that they were good at something, without feeling the need to qualify it with a bunch of stuff about how they’re not as good as they could be, or how other people are so much better, or how the things they’re good at aren’t really important in the scheme of things.” That kind of conversation should really happen more often.

I’ve struggled with taking compliments gracefully — I have a tendency to respond with some joke at my own expense — but I’ve been working on the issue and arrived at a few insights. Herewith, a couple of tips:

Just say “thanks!”

An enthusiastic “thank you” often needs no qualifier. Don’t add “but it really wasn’t that good” — just stop with gratitude. You’ll still sound polite and gracious. And you’ll avoid the cycle of self-snark that can be really dangerous, especially with looks-based compliments (ie. “My hair doesn’t look great, it looks horrible.” “No, my hair is horrible.”) Sometimes less is more.

Say, “that means a lot to me.”

If you want to convey how touched you are by someone’s admiration, without implying that you don’t deserve it, this is a great way to go.

Practice with people you love.

Breaking a habit of self-deprecation is tough, in part because women are sometimes actively punished for emphasizing their achievements. I’ve noticed, though, that it’s easier to be frank about the ways I’m proud of myself when I’m talking to people I’m very close to. So these days I make a special effort to share my accomplishments with close friends and family in a self-confident way. If I do really well on something, I’ll go ahead and say, “I did an awesome job on this. Take a look.” I know that the people who care about me don’t think I’m an arrogant narcissist — or if I were, they’d tell me. Speaking of which …

Don’t be an arrogant narcissist.

Give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge the people who help you. Compliment others on their achievements. Be open to criticism, and work hard on the areas where you need to improve. Listen. If you do all these things, it’s pretty hard to be an asshole. And if you consistently display non-asshole behavior in your daily life, people won’t think you’re a dick if you accept credit when credit is due.

Or maybe they will. The sad fact is that eschewing self-deprecation is sometimes a risk, especially for women — we’re more likely to be branded as uppity or conceited for behavior that in men would simply be confident. But the more we accept compliments without self-snark, the more we make it acceptable for other women to do so, and the more we make it okay for women own their successes as well as their failures. Which is, in itself, worth a compliment.

Image via pixinity/Shutterstock.

Slightly Pre-Friday Sorta-Fluff: I’m Kate Fucking Harding [Shapely Prose]

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