Inside: Exactly how to accept a compliment without clamming up, turning beet red, or undervaluing yourself.
A few weeks ago, after receiving a compliment on a project I’d been slaving over for weeks, I found myself exhibiting several symptoms of imposter syndrome.
What’s impostor syndrome, you ask?
It’s when a colleague compliments your work on a report, and you point out the fact that you missed a single typo on page 14.
It’s when the stranger at Starbucks says she likes your outfit, and you say, “Thanks, but look at the terrible hair day I’m having!”
It’s when a fellow mom notes how well-behaved your son is, and you insist that he’s never usually this good (even though he actually is).
It’s when a friend congratulates you on a recent success, and you blush and chalk it all up to good luck.
A lot of successful women suffer from impostor syndrome in everything from their careers to their clothes to their kids. “I don’t deserve this,” we think. “They’re saying I’m good enough, but I know I’m really not.”
One way to tell if you’re suffering from impostor syndrome is to question if you really know how to accept a compliment graciously.
If you clam up, start squirming, and turn beet red when someone compliments you, you’re probably infected. If you immediately redirect the conversation or—even worse—counteract the compliment by insisting you can’t accept credit or that it was all a fluke, get thee to the doctor. You’ve got a bad case of impostor syndrome.
Thankfully there’s a cure, and the treatment regimen begins with healthier responses to those awesome accolades you get.
How to Accept a Compliment: 4 Ways To Respond Graciously
1. Say “thank you.” Nothing else.
For those who have been struck by impostor syndrome, the phrase “thank you” is almost always followed by the word “but.”
Thank you, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Thank you, but I probably could have done better. Thank you, but I think I just got lucky. And on and on and on.
To start the path to recovery, try biting your tongue before you say “but.”
2. Share an interesting detail.
Too many women respond to a compliment by downgrading the very quality for which they’re being praised. That’s not how to accept a compliment!
Someone compliments our shoes and we jump to tell them how old they are, as if we couldn’t possibly be up-to-date with the latest trends. Someone congratulates us on a promotion and we immediately counter that the better candidate dropped out of the race.
A better approach? Offering the complimenter an extra tidbit of information that tells a more complete story—sans self-degredation.
So for the shoes, your usual response of “You mean this old pair?” becomes “They were a thoughtful gift from my aunt, and wearing them always makes me think of her.” Likewise, for the promotion, any mention of the competition gets replaced with, “I actually rehearsed for the interview in front of the mirror!”
3. Ask a question.
This one’s downright practical. When someone gives you kudos, see if you can get them to elaborate a bit; their feedback might be really useful for future endeavors.
For example, when your co-worker says, “I loved your article!” you thank her and then ask what in particular she liked about it. Or when your friend exclaims that she loves the paint color you chose for your living room, see if she has any suggestions for artwork that might pair nicely.
4. Return the love.
Saying thank you is polite, but also offering some flattery of your own is polite and thoughtful. The point of doing so isn’t to diminish your achievement in any way; rather, it simply serves to start a conversation in which both parties are appreciated and celebrated.
It can be as simple as saying something like, “I was just admiring your outfit as well!” Or my personal favorite: Complimenting the compliment itself. “Thanks for saying my daughter’s a great listener. That’s about the nicest thing you can say to a mom!” Now that’s how to accept a compliment graciously!
As Jessica Valenti once wrote, “Confidence is not just about believing in the good in ourselves, but about believing in the good that others see in us.”
If you constantly feel like you’re not good enough or that you don’t deserve whatever great things have come your way in life, try changing the way you respond to the compliments you undoubtedly receive.
You might just find that when you stop undervaluing yourself, you discover you’re not an impostor at all. Just a genuinely amazing human being.
32 responses to “How to Accept a Compliment Graciously: 4 Best Ways to Respond”
Oh yes, we’ve all been there! I also wrote a post on this (with a racing twist) not too long ago. What tends to work best for me, when I can actually do it, is to just say Thank You!!
These are great Katie. It is hard for me but I always try to say thank you. I like some of your other options! Less awkward than an abrupt thank you.
When I was growing up most children were taught to say “thank you” to a compliment. To do otherwise was considered rude. So, I generally say “thank you” when complimented. Perhaps teaching our children how to accept a compliment needs to be a more considered part of parenting.
These four also work really well when responding to, “I love/like you” from my husband.
Sometimes I want a specific, so I ask, “why?” Other times, “thank you” is best. The other two responses are equally used and valued.
This is such great advice! I am guilty of some of these often! Next time I get a nice compliment (gee, I hope I’ll actually get one) I will definitely pause, enjoy it, and respond productively.
Oh this is so me! I always have a deflecting joke to follow any compliment! Thank you for writing this article – I will practice… Now I just have to do something noteworthy first! LOL
This used to be such a bad habit of mine.
I never thought much about it until I noticed after a couple dates with my husband that he had never complimented me on anything, even though I looked dramatically better than my normal everyday (read: no make-up, hair in ponytail) look. So I commented on it and he said, “Well every time I give you a compliment you reject it or disagree with me, and it gets annoying. So I stopped saying them.” A wake up call for me. Now I try really hard to just say thank you. 🙂
A number of people have noted that they didn’t even realize they do this until their partner pointed it out…myself included!
I used to take the opportunity for self-deprecating humor.
“My mom picked out this outfit. I wanted to wear a Yoda T-shirt and camo pants.”
“My kid behaves this way only when I deny her food and water for 24 straight hours.”
“I played the race card to get this promotion.”
But, that’s bad form, for my girls. I have to show them through how I act that it’s OK to get a compliment. And “Thank you” is a great way to respond when you have nothing else to say.
I appreciate a good self-deprecating joke, but I agree that it’s important for your girls to see you truly and graciously accepting a piece of praise!
I used to struggle with this so much, and then my husband pointed it out. Now, I have gotten much better at just saying, “Thank you.” These are some great tips, and returning the love feels so good.
Oh I have this so badly! I’ve really been trying to be better.
I would make the worst famous person in the world because I shy away from attention and praise. And criticism, for that matter.
The truth is, no matter how much people love a photo I took and the emotion in it, I will still only see what’s wrong with it – one blurry eye. A red color cast. Graininess. etc.
I totally understand that. The encouraging voices of others get drowned out by the critical voice in our own mind.
Ugh I totally need to learn how to accept a compliment. I’ve been trying to do the “thank you” and that’s it, but me and my awkwardness sometimes rambles on and actually insult myself. For instance, someone will say nice shoes, and I’ll say, “Oh these aren’t new. They’re cheap. Etc. etc.” Geez, just say thank you lol! So now that’s what I try to do 🙂
Oh gosh- I am TOTALLY guilty of this.
I never realized how badly I undervalue myself. I used to think how vain it would be to not acknowledge something negative to make sure the other knew I wasn’t too prideful. But I now see that I am really not giving myself OR the complement-er any respect.
Good point, Chris. I do think there’s an important distinction between being too prideful and undervaluing ourselves. Many of us women tend to worry so much about the former that we end up doing the latter!
Ahh I think about this every time someone says something nice about me. It’s so easy to dismiss the compliment. I try to hard to stop at just a simple ‘thank you’ and leave it at that. But I love the compliment the compliment idea! Might try that one now 🙂
I was with a friend the other day who is a VP at a local bank. She supervises 55 people, almost all women. She does not all the words “I’m sorry” from any of them unless they actually do something wrong. Why do women have to be so hard on themselves? I’ve said I’m sorry before for no reason and have had trouble accepting compliments. I’ve been working to change this. Thanks for these tips!
Oh my, this is such an important comment. So many of us utter the words “I’m sorry” on a regular basis, even though we truly have nothing to be sorry about. Thanks for bringing this up!
I’ve gotten much better about accepting compliments. I noticed that it bothered me when someone discounted my genuine compliment to them. Why should I do that to them? I really like your second suggestion – share an interesting detail. I don’t think I do that, but I’m going to start!
Dana, I love this comment. I have the same reaction when someone downplays a compliment I give them. That really puts it in perspective.
I knocked it off with the self deprication a long time ago. Thanks for these tips. It’s always great to have something ready to say because compliments are sometimes awkward. Good strategies to teach my daughter too.
So glad you found the post useful. Thanks for stopping by!
Funny enough this is something I’ve been meaning to Google, but who Googles ‘how to accept a compliment’…Well call me an Impostor! Everything you listed was very helpful and easy enough to start implementing into a regular conversation. Maybe then I can stop replaying those awkward moments when I received a compliment and blushed, froze, or flubbed whatever was coming next. Thanks for sharing 🙂
I have definitely typed those exact words into Google, which is exactly why I wanted to write this post!
Hi, found you through Pinterest Promotion for Bloggers…love all these tips, it can be hard to accept compliments sometimes especially when you’re surprised by it or least expect it. I think for me I fall into the “thank you but …” category! Thanks for sharing, pinned!
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing my post! I too have a tendency to say “thank you, but…” Looking forward to connecting more!
I love this! I used to do the same thing. Then I heard other people doing it and realized how bad it sounds. My husband is always pointing out the part of dinner he messed up and I told him to CUT THAT OUT!
I have a co worker that’s complimented a pair of my shoes about 3 times and I always say thank you so today I decided to get her a pair and gift it to her. The thing is we aren’t close, we just acknowledge each other when we see, smile, say hi and have really short conversations but I think she’s nice. Do you think getting her the pair is weird? I feel weird about it but I really want to. It didn’t cost me much at all and I’m happy giving her, plus I think it could be the start of a good friendship. I already bought it and intend giving her tomorrow. What do you think?
I’m sorry I’m just responding now, but I think that’s a really lovely idea! I hope she appreciates your thoughtfulness and it does indeed start a wonderful friendship.
I suffer from this so badly. I have very low self esteem and whenever I get complimented, it’s very difficult to just say thank you and not shut the person down. Finally starting to learn how to accept praise and grow. ☺️
Thank you for making this article. I find myself feeling awkward a lot of times and really hate if when ppl tell me. “Oh you look like a model! Or “You should be a model.” I always come back with a Hard “No” to show ppl I don’t like these kinds of compliments but they keep doing it. I would like to be complimented on something more than my looks. It may sound petty to some. But growing up being abused and teased in my childhood. Makes me feel when ppl say these things they have nothing better to say. Plus it shows me that they don’t value how they look. Because sometimes they add on to the compliment “I would die to have your body and looks.” How the fuck is anyone suppose to reply to this.” It makes me feel stuck and over compliment them to make them feel better. It is very awkward and difficult. Do you have any advice for for me?