Episode 58: What To Do With A Compliment

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Hi there and welcome back to the show! 

I want to talk about compliments today. What’s one of the best compliments you’ve received? 

First off, let me ask, did you believe it when they said that to you?

How did it feel?

What did you then do?

What did you create for yourself because of that action?

Compliments are amazing and I love them. They are a double edge sword though or can be if you’re not careful and you don’t know what to do with them. I know this might sound odd because what do you mean, “what do you do with a compliment?” 

But that’s just it, what do you personally do when someone compliments you?

Do you deflect it?

Do you blush and get all bashful?

Do you downplay it? Like you don’t really deserve it?

Do you pass it on to someone else? Like, oh, no it’s not me…it’s really Susan that should take all the credit.

Do you deny it? No, no, no… that’s not me?

Do you talk about all the reasons it’s not really true? Oh, well, it was just luck. 

Do you get embarrassed and worry that they don’t really know the “real” you?

What do you do with a compliment?

While this might sound silly it’s anything but. Compliments give us insight into what we think about ourselves and what we believe ourselves to be.

Harvard Business Review reported that 88 percent of people associate compliments and recognition with a feeling of being valued, yet 70 percent also associate it with embarrassment. 

It’s fascinating because most of us believe that we NEED compliments in order to feel validated and valued but even when you get it it’s a painful experience.

Let’s talk about why it’s painful and so hard to just say, “thank you”.

What is a compliment first and foremost?

You might think it’s someone saying something nice or praiseworthy about you, right?

But really a compliment is a circumstance.

It’s a string of words someone says to you or that you read or hear through the grapevine.

Circumstances, if you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know to be neutral – not good or bad. 

Most people assume compliments are good and positive but really if we were to plug this into a model it’d go in the C line.

The rest of it, what makes us uncomfortable is what we make that circumstance mean about us.

There are a few reasons why we cringe, why it’s so hard to accept, and say thank you and one reason is that you don’t believe it.

This is probably at the top of the list.

Someone says something to you and it sounds like it should be a good thing but depending on your thoughts, your biases, your perspective you could interpret that into a whole slew of meanings.

When I was in high school I was asked to sing periodically in church. I loved singing but was terrified of signing in public and much harder at church. At church, there’s no warm up time. It’s usually smack dab in the middle of the meeting – the middle of a quiet meeting and we don’t clap afterward because of the sacred nature of the meeting so in my mind there wasn’t a lot of interaction or warming up and preparing. It was just – and now you’re on and when you’re done the meeting goes on without really any validation or interaction which invited a lot of drama into my mind.

I had thoughts and fears of what if’s what if I sound bad? What if they don’t like me? I was worried I’d be judged. Worried people would think I couldn’t sing. Worried my voice would come out shaky and sitting with these thoughts created a scared, timid persona so when I got up to sing, sure enough, timid, shaky, worried sounding voice. Then I’d sit down afterward and just want to crawl in a hole and hide. 

Because in the silence afterward, my mind would go to town Criticizing and telling me how bad it was.

Then after the meeting, people would come up and offer compliments and I hated it so much because I knew they were just saying that to be nice, that really it was terrible. I myself had given not so genuine compliments at that time –  I don’t do that anymore – all my praise its 100% genuine – I promise!

But at that time sitting with all that drama compliments were painful because I didn’t and couldn’t believe them. I created a story that it was just all-out bad and so my brain found evidence of that. It created a story and evidence to fit my dialogue.

So no matter what others say to you and offer to you if you already have a set story in mind for yourself you won’t be able to be open to any other possibility because it doesn’t line up with who you’re believing you are.

Another reason it’s so hard is again because of your inner story and believing people to be insincere. You already have a preconceived belief that they’re really critical and being critical of you and masking it with these fake compliments.

So when someone says, “Hey, you look amazing!” Instead of agreeing or being open to that possibility, you think, “They must think I look terrible!”

I have a personal example of this – years and years ago my husband read this article in the ensign magazine called, “our heavenly home”. He offered it to me and I can’t remember exactly what he said but something to the effect of this is right up your alley kind of thing. So I took it and read it and was so bothered by it because the entire time all I could think about was that he must not think that I’m doing a good job at creating our home. That I’m lacking in all these areas and I was so hurt by it that later I talked to him about it – probably in tears because of the inner dialogue I was having and he was stunned. He said, “I said that because that’s what I think of you and thought you’d like it” – it was completely the opposite of what I really thought about myself that I was lacking – and here he was genuinely praising me.

So watch out for your inner perspective, biases, and lens that you’re viewing the world through.

Byron Katie says, “The world is nothing but my perception of it. I see only through myself. I hear only through the filter of my story.”

No matter what anyone says you won’t be able to internalize it if you’re locked into your story about yourself.

The same is true when you believe that accepting compliments is conceited or if you say thanks then the other person is going to think, “Oh, they think they’re all high and mighty” which is funny because they already think that of you – not high and mighty but the complement. It’s not arrogant to agree with them.

But in order to align with our inner belief that we need to be humble and we define humility as not thinking highly of ourselves or anything good about ourselves – then you’ll always deflect them. You’ll attribute it to someone else like it’s okay to think highly of everyone else, but you? You have to think you’re lower than dirt otherwise you’re prideful and when you hear said like that, it sounds ridiculous, right?

Confidence is being certain in who you are and who you’re becoming and being able to listen to others and what they think while not using it as a means to divide and elevate ourselves over another. It’s just acknowledging that you’re a candle with light to share and so are others. There’s an even playing ground of talents, and gifts, and attributes to admire.

When you think about nature we might have preferences over the beach to the forest or the lake to the meadow but one isn’t better than another they’re all just places in nature. And this is a way you can think about yourself and others – it’s not that one is higher or better than another just different and diverse and how amazing that we get to experience all this?

So here’s the real truth about compliments. What others say about you has nothing to do with you. I know that sounds contradictory because they’re saying it TO you and about you but I promise you, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and what they think. Their biases, their preferences, them.

I always use the example of a grapefruit. My kids like them. They’re beautiful, they smell amazing but I have no desire to eat them. My preference has no bearing on the fruit itself. It’s perfect at being grapefruit and everything to do with my and my preferences. 

So when others compliment us it’s important to first register that what they say is about them and only about them and has nothing to do with you.

With that detachment here’s the fun part. Compliments are new thoughts to try on. It’s like shopping for thoughts. You don’t really know what to expect or what you’ll find but sometimes there’s just THE perfect or most amazing thing that you didn’t know you needed until you saw it, right? Know what I’m talking about?

Compliments are the same. They’re thoughts to try on. 

Dr. James Pawelski and his wife wrote a book called Happy Together and I like what they say about compliments. They use a three-part method for compliments and what to do with them. They’re the three A’s.

 “accept, amplify, and advance.” Instead of immediately filtering the compliment through your own self-doubt, they invite you to just try it on first. 

Before you reject it, deflect it, interpret it. Just acknowledge that something was said. Like handing you a gift. Accept it.

Then amplify. Which is like trying it on. Try it on and see if it fits, if it feels good – note – they don’t make you feel good – you make you feel good by accepting and believing the complement to be true. The same is true when you hear criticism – it doesn’t hurt you – rather what hurts is that you’re choosing to believe it. 

So here – amplify it – could this be true? Is it possible this could be true?

From my HS younger self and singing – if I had these tools then I could have paused for a moment and instead of just assuming people felt sorry for me I could have just questioned that line of thought and asked myself, “Is it possible they did like it?” That’s not asking if I liked it and if I didn’t then no one could or did. It’s asking me to look at the possibility that it might be true that they liked it. People like weird things – everyone is different, right? So then I could say, yes. It’s possible.

Then branch out again, if they liked it – is it possible that others liked it? 

If others like it is it possible I’m missing something about my own critique? Is it possible my critique might be skewed?

This line of questioning allows me to try the thought on without my previous negative biases and story. 

It’s allows me to explore my merits and let it sink in a little bit. Then the last part – advance – take it deeper – see what other strengths you have that you can celebrate.

Dr. Norihiro Sadato said, “To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money.” – 

Compliments that you believe feel good. They register in your brain as a reward and naturally, we want more of it. If they come from a trusted source it’s easier for us to accept them and believe them and when we get used to this we tend to rely on others then to fill our cups and validate us but we have to be careful here because compliments are also like candy. They feel sweet at first but they’re not lasting and they’re not lasting because you’re not believing them.

That’s your work – to learn to complement and validate yourself so that it can be lasting and help you to show up as a more confident person who is sure of they’re strengths and trusts in their ability to expound and learn and grow.

So accept – that was said, now what?

Amplify – look at it under a microscope  – this is not to question them – what they think of you because that’s not about you – it’s about them. But rather to try it on and to see if you CAN believe it. Amplify what’s possible here.

Then Advance – what else? What other strengths do I like about me? And here’s what so great about this step – the more you do this and you create a lasting feeling of joy and confidence within yourself the more you’ll naturally go and do this for others as well.

A lot of us withhold the kind things we think about others because we’re self-conscious and it’s almost like if I acknowledge them then I’m solidifying that I’m not enough. 

So when we can know that we’re pretty amazing we can also acknowledge that others are pretty amazing too.

You know the adage notion of just says thank you? It still applies but it’s important to know what you’re thanking them for.

You can say thank you to them for thinking that way about you. That’s really nice they think that about me. We can recognize that they’re sharing something that resonates within them that they see in you. We can thank them for that – just recognizing the giver.

You can say thank you because they offered you something new to try on and a different perspective to see yourself through if you want it. 

Thanking them doesn’t mean you’re arrogant. It just means that you appreciate the giver and this new opportunity to explore something you might not have known about yourself.

Accept, amplify, and advance – so fun.

Try it out this week – use this as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself, to try on a new thought and then from there you can use that as a springboard to grow and develop in that area.

Remember, the only reason it’s uncomfortable is because of the meaning you place on it and why do you want to think something negative about you? Why not try on the possibility that you ARE amazing, that you ARE good, that you have a light to share.

Then from that empowering space you’re able to help others try on new thoughts about themselves so they can also learn more of who they are and shine bright.

Compliment yourself – recognize the good that you are and that you have to offer. Amplify those thoughts and expound on them. It’s so fun you guys! 

Okay, talk to you all next week!


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