A surprisingly large number of people do not know how to take a compliment. There’s something in our mindset that says we cannot possibly deserve positive feedback. Therefore anyone who pays us a compliment must be either lying, misguided, or feeling sorry for us. This is that little extra-critical voice in our heads, externalized and projected onto others; as if it weren’t enough to undermine ourselves, we force others to undermine us too.
In a study of more than 400 people, around 70% associated feelings of discomfort or embarrassment with recognition or receiving a compliment. 
Despite this, compliments are one of the most positive feelings a person can experience. Social analysts categorize our response to a compliment in three ways. We either accept, deflect or reject it. 
Full acceptance and rejection are the extreme ends of the spectrum and most people opt for a safe middle ground. Here are some do’s and don’ts in accepting compliments.
Table of Contents
- How to Respond to a Compliment: What to Do
- What Not to Do When Receiving a Compliment
- Humility is Not About Displaying Low Self-Esteem
- Final Thoughts
How to Respond to a Compliment: What to Do
1. Express Gratitude and Keep It Simple
Don’t know how to respond to a compliment humbly? The simplest, most direct way to do this is by simply saying “thank you.” It can really be that simple. This short and easy expression of gratitude acknowledges the compliment and displays your appreciation. A compliment is a gift, and you wouldn’t put down or reject a gift from a friend; treat compliments the same way.
2. Pay Attention to your Body Language
Be aware of your body language, facial expressions, and the overall vibe you are communicating non-verbally. When you’re nervous or uncomfortable, your body language may send the wrong message.
Try to avoid crossing your arms or appearing disinterested. These nonverbal cues can give others the impression that you are conceited or feel you deserve to be noticed. Work to maintain good eye contact (don’t stare–that’s weird), lean slightly forward, and engage those around you with warm facial expressions.
3. Share but Don’t Transfer the Credit
Truth is, most of what we accomplish is due, in part, to the assistance of others. Be sure to share the credit with them without excluding yourself or transferring all the credit to others. One reaction to compliments is to say “I don’t deserve it” and list reasons why. Stop doing that.
We often respond to the embarrassment of being singled out for praise by deflecting it to others. Others may be deserving, but so are you. It wasn’t luck or the goodwill of others or any other reason that you managed to do something praiseworthy, it was your own effort and commitment.
Even if you truly were just in the right place at the right time, you deserve credit for recognizing an opportunity and acting on it. If you wouldn’t dream of not taking responsibility for your failures, then step up and take responsibility for your achievements.
4. Be Optimistic
Not pointing out your weaknesses doesn’t mean you can’t be honest about what lays ahead. This applies best when receiving a compliment in regards to workplace achievements.
When receiving a compliment for a job well done, a simple “we still have to do x, y, and z but it’s good to see we’re on the right track” will suffice. Don’t make someone waste their effort paying a compliment by telling them how the thing they’re praising is probably doomed to fail in the long run.
What to Say After You Express Your Gratitude
Sometimes, there may be some dead silence or space after you receive a compliment, which may have its awkward moments. The easiest thing to do is to accept the compliment and then use it as a transition in the conversation.
For example, if you are being congratulated for winning an award for a competition or recognized for work you’ve done on a project, you could say: “Thanks so much! I really enjoyed the competition/working on this project…” And then go on to explain why you enjoyed it.
If applicable, offer to involve the person giving you a compliment in your success. “Thanks, Maria. I wonder if you’d like to help us by offering some feedback on….”
Alas, diminishing the impact of compliments is a pretty strong reflex for many of us. But how can we undo what years of habitual practice have made us almost unconscious?
So how do you respond to a compliment? Here are a few don’ts that will help you know how to respond to a compliment without making the situation weird.
What Not to Do When Receiving a Compliment
1. Don’t Boomerang Compliments or Claim It’s “Luck”
Don’t throw a compliment back just because you received one. It appears disingenuous. You should also avoid the temptation to “out-compliment” someone. Many people may claim how “lucky” they were in regards to receiving a promotion or an opportunity. This can be a way of deflecting embarrassing attention from oneself.
Either way, humbly accept the praise and keep it moving. There is no need to do a switch-off of compliments, which may make the conversation awkward.
2. Don’t Assume the Other Person Doesn’t Mean It
Acting as if the person didn’t mean it when they did is insulting and makes you come off as either a jerk or a basket case. Stop doing it.
According to the book, Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, authors Tania Luna and LeeAnne Renninger provides reasoning as to why people feel discomfort in receiving compliments and that’s the surprise factor of it.  When surprised, our brain tries to make reason to understanding the “why.”
When it comes to compliments, our brain may sometimes reason with the negative thinking that someone doesn’t mean it. Turn negative thoughts into positive thinking patterns, therefore when surprise factors show up, your brain doesn’t always assume the worst.
3. Don’t Ignore It
Please, for goodness sake, acknowledge that you at least heard the compliment. Ignoring the compliment over-complicates the situation making it even more uncomfortable. The complimenter may think that you didn’t hear the comment so they are forced to repeat it. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Instead, it just dangles awkwardly in the air making the person offering the praise feel rejected.
4. Don’t Insult Yourself
This is actually one of the more common responses to praise. It looks something like this:
Praiser: “That’s a great haircut.”
You: “Well, I had to do something to hide this big forehead and make up for my witch nose. Now, maybe kids won’t run away in terror when they see me!”
Most of us don’t take it this far, but we do try to “neutralize” the positive compliment by exposing something negative about ourselves. It’s important to remember that when you do this, you diminish your own value.
Humility is Not About Displaying Low Self-Esteem
Compliments are extremely powerful. In fact, Receiving compliments is as powerful as receiving monetary gifts. 
Most people default to their version of deflection shenanigans when a compliment comes their way in an effort to appear humble. False humility and humility are not the same. A person with humility is able to maintain the proper perspective of themselves and their accomplishments. Humility is not, in any way, a display of low self-esteem, the absence of self-worth nor is it self-deprecating.
Humble people know how to respond to a compliment. They value the welfare of others and are able to “forget themselves” when appropriate. Truly humble people are very self-aware. They are able to maintain the proper perspective and attitude concerning their accomplishments, gifts, and talents. This allows them to accept praise while properly sharing the credit. A confident yet humble spirit is what your response to a compliment should reflect.
Do's and Don'ts to Accepting Compliments
You don’t have to be a cocky or arrogant to accept compliments whole heartedly. Taking praise means you’re also a reasonably well-balanced, self-assured person. When you don’t know how to respond to a compliment, it leaves people with the impression you don’t value their opinion. Now that you know how to respond to a compliment humbly, you can finally be more confident and appear more positive in your interactions.
Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com
|||^||Harvard Business Review: Do Compliments Make You Cringe? Here’s Why|
|||^||The Art of Manliness: How to Accept A Compliment With Class|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: Do Compliments Make You Cringe? Here’s Why|
|||^||Cell Press Journal: Processing of Social and Monetary Rewards in the Human Striatum|