Compliments: Accept the Gift with Grace

By Denise King Gillingham, LMSW, ACC, CPM

Why is it so hard to listen to nice things about yourself? It seems like it should be so easy—and enjoyable—but many of us react to compliments in ways that reflect our difficulty in accepting and internalizing these positive messages.

For many women this difficulty accepting praise can be traced back to lessons ingrained in childhood that repeat­edly emphasize modesty as a female virtue. I can’t count how many times I was told, as a little girl and as a young woman, that it is better to be recognized by others than to talk about your own success: “Nobody likes a brag­gart;”or, “Remember, you don’t want to come off as arro­gant.” By contrast I clearly remember hearing boys told to “Show your stuff,” “Fight for what you want,” and “Tell the coach you can do it.”

The result: the belief among many women that to accept a compliment displays an inflated sense of ego and an unacceptable level of confidence. This pattern and expectation becomes ingrained, and it can be damaging to professional and personal relationships.

But what if instead of shaking off a compliment, we actually accepted it for what it is—a genuine offering of support and admiration? Think about how internalizing a compliment could boost self-esteem and become fuel for positive action in our lives.

So, how do you start believing that compliments are true? One way is to reframe your thinking about com­pliments. See them as the gifts they are. When someone compliments you, pause before you respond; let the praise sink in. Think about what the person just said to you. Now, return to a lesson from childhood that is actually worth remembering: What do you say when someone gives you a gift? Thank you!

If you can look at a compliment as a gift, it becomes much easier to respond appropriately. Undermining or disparaging a compliment could potentially insult the giver and send the message that you lack self-confidence; graciously accepting the compliment will tell the person who offered the kindness that you value their opinion and you understand your own worth.

And remember, your body language can be as import­ant as your verbal response. Think about the different message you send to the person offering you praise when you look away instead of make eye contact when receiv­ing a compliment? The next time someone praises you, honor the gift with a warm, engaging smile and good eye contact—an outward, physical reflection of the positive nature of the exchange.

Recognizing the value of a compliment and the gift it represents and making conscious changes to your verbal and physical response will go a long way toward helping you benefit from the positive impact of approval. Send the world the message that you are confident and deserving of praise—you might be surprised by the results!


Denise King Gillingham, LMSW, ACC, CPM, is a certified coach and mediator. Denise creates and delivers programs for corporations and organizations throughout the United States and Europe on social and emotional intelligence and nonviolent communication. Her coaching clients span all corners of the globe and all walks of life, from the international business executive to the stay-at-home parent. She received her MSW degree from Columbia University and has worked as a family therapist at The Paine Whitney Clinic in New York. She earned an advanced certification in systems and relationship coaching and is CTI certified. She has also been a substance abuse therapist at the Bronx VA Medical Center in New York and had a private therapy practice in Prague, Czech Republic. Prior to receiving her MSW, Denise held various leadership roles in the financial services industry. Contact Denise at dkgcoaching.com.