The Right Ways to Accept Praise From Others

Have you ever found yourself frustrated with life, and someone says the right thing at the right time to change your outlook? On Friday this past week, I received an incredibly humbling surprise at work. Reflecting on it, I was wondering about the right response approach.

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A local executive in my office, from a different functional group, walked into my office unexpectedly. The team atmosphere in my office is great, so his walking in was not out of the norm in our company culture. What was said, and the enthusiasm with which is was said, was not out of the norm either. But it was still, to me, an extremely pleasant surprise!

The project he was coming to talk to me about had been a fantastic growth and experience opportunity, but a tremendous challenge. I was working fairly independently in a new direction and experiencing doubt, imposter syndrome, and fear that I might not be capable. This executive came to share praise for the efforts on this particular project. He noted that the overwhelming success to date on an extremely complicated project was something to be proud of because of how rare this level of success is, even without the inherent complexity. The team had banded together along the way, but the executive was specific about my role on top of praising the team.

How amazing was this! A sweet cap to a week that was challenging because of two sick dogs at home, requiring us to rearrange two work schedules, full site visits for me and experiments for my husband, for vet visits, accompanied by poor nights’ sleep making sure the pups were taken care of.

How to receive praise?

I immediately sent a text to my husband to share the exciting event that had just happened. He was clearly delighted also. On the commuter rail ride home I got a high five (this is how we roll, ha!) and a kiss in congratulations. As we were catching up on this and other events of the day, the thought kept coming back into my head if I had received the praise properly.

Whether at home, socially, or in the workplace, it seems like there is never enough praise or appreciation. Some of this may have to do with how we receive it, and how that impacts how willing someone might be to share it with us. If it seems like someone doesn’t want something, even a good word, why would another person continue to make the effort to give it?

Here are some approaches to receive praise the right way, and to ensure you continue to be recognized for your good work.

Acknowledge the praise

When you receive praise, it is important to acknowledge and accept the praise, first for yourself internally and secondly from the person giving it to you. It feels great to know that someone cares about your success and recognizes your efforts in that success.

Say thank you

This is a simple action that most of us learn as toddlers. Part of the acknowledgment of receiving praise is expressing thanks. Read on for ways to say thank you! When someone shares a kindness, it is important to recognize that compliment or favor. The appreciation  

Don’t deflect

Someone is taking the time out of their day to give you praise or thanks for something you did. Unless you didn’t truly play a role at all, the acceptance and thanks will be all you need. When you deflect praise that is rightfully yours, it makes the giver uncomfortable. If someone is uncomfortable, why would they want to give you praise again?

If you truly had nothing to do with the reason for the praise, make sure to recognize the proper people. In the situation where you’re on a team making success happen, allow yourself to accept for yourself and the team. Something like, “thank you, I appreciate you saying that! I’ve been working hard with the team on the execution and Jenny and Andrew really helped make it happen” does just that.

Pass it on if for you and others

Make sure to pass on the praise if you are acknowledged as the leader or part of a team. Be mindful of how other people like to be praised. Some people enjoy public praise in front of their peers, while others are more reserved and private.

Accept the praise as truth

The person giving praise is doing so because they feel you are deserving. If it honestly was no big deal, try revelling (internally!) in the fact that what seems easy or normal for you is impressive to others. Denying the praise is a reflection on the person giving it, insinuating that they are wrong (unless of course, the praise does not reflect the real situation).

Ways to say thank you

One of the many lessons I learned from my grandfather was to be thoughtful about how I said thanks. It assumed the necessity and practice of saying thank you, and recognized the need to acknowledge those who were thanking me.

Try saying:

  • Thank you too! This shows appreciation for the other person and their role in the accomplishment. People are often surprised by this response because they are not expecting to be thanked back!
  • It was my pleasure! If you enjoyed the act that preceded the praise, this phrase can highlight your team-player aspects and show that you are a positive person who cares about contributing to the greater cause.
  • This means a lot to me Expressing your personal feelings can build a relationship because you are open and honest. This is a professional phrase that exhibits vulnerability while saying thank you.

Try avoiding:

  • You’re welcome But, you ask, isn’t this the normal thing to say in American culture? Yes, though it can be improved by some of the above options. By saying “you’re welcome”, it can feel like you’re placing a burden on the other person.
  • Not a problem/No big deal When you mention a word like problem, the listener hears it as “this was a problem to you,” whether or not it is true. This response comes off as insincere, even if you were happy to do it.  

Moving Forward

Some of these approaches require only minor modification to thought process and behaviors that might feel like natural responses. With a little consciousness and attention to how others react to our reactions, we can change how we are perceived and hopefully receive more praise. If we don’t pay attention to these kinds of attitudes or act in the right way, we can be seen as difficult to work with. It doesn’t take a major life adjustment to become a better family member, friend, and colleague. Small steps can make a big difference!

My grandfather’s advice seemed counterintuitive when he gave it to me in high school. Looking back after putting it into practice, I realized he had a keen sense of how people feel and want to feel interacting with others. Don’t we all want to feel great about all of our relationships? Accepting praise in the right way can be a differentiator.

Have you tried receiving praise in a different way before? How do others react to you when you give them praise, and how does it make you feel?


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