When you receive a compliment, how do you generally react? If you are like most people, myself included, you probably act like you have just heard the most outrageous falsehood known to mankind.
And like any good detective, you quickly cite the many reasons as to why that argument lacks any trace of validity.
In a panic you begin spitting out nonsense, anything to force them to silently retract their previous statement. “I look like I lost weight? I think you mean I lost to weight. I geared up for battle, but then I realized it was uphill, and you know how I am with cardio.”
In spite of the majority’s inability to master this skill, it remains the case that one of the most attractive and advantageous features a person can have is the ability to accept a compliment.
There are many reasons for not accepting praise, but all of them reflect on the recipient in one way or another.
One of the top reasons many people brush off compliments is because they are being “modest.” “Modesty is the best policy,” or at least that is what we have been led to believe.
If you want to get ahead in life, however, this idea of modesty does not exactly open doors. Granted, modesty in one sense — being humble and not parading around with a pretentious air — projects an innately positive image, but many people have taken the word far beyond its original meaning.
The word modest has taken on many more interpretations than merely “freedom from conceit or vanity,” as Merriam-Webster defines it.
The version of modesty many of us have been fed and have regurgitated to others tells us that it is vain to acknowledge any and all praise. We are encouraged to fight off not just vanity and conceit, but also self-esteem and sense of self.
People who view themselves as “modest” when redirecting or refuting flattery are more accurately just exhibiting, whether conscious of it or not, a self-deprecating attitude.
The act of evading a compliment or minimizing its importance is showing the world that you do not think yourself worthy. You are giving more concern to not “offending” others than to your own self-respect.
This self-effacing approach is not restricted to the confines of a compliment, but also everyday conversation.
It is considered far more acceptable to tell a complete stranger how awful your day, your week or your mother-in-law is than to report to a friend how well you did on your last exam.
This kind of behavior fosters an environment of negativity. We are limited in how we talk about positive events in our lives for fear that we will make someone feel, god forbid, “bad.” Pessimistic portrayals of our lives, however, are welcomed with eager ears.
So, next time you want to complain about something, think twice. But when it comes to mentioning something positive, don’t over-think it.
And as far as modesty is concerned, all we have to do to free ourselves from “conceit or vanity” when receiving a compliment is simply say “thank you” and then move on.
Accepting the compliment shows that you are aware that you did something worthy of notice, but remain modest so as not to prolong the point.
A simple “thank you” — that’s all. There is no need to redirect the conversation or deny the importance of the statement.
Redirecting the conversation is usually uncomfortably apparent anyway, like the classic, “Oh yeah, I’m happy about that promotion and all, but my boyfriend and I have been growing more distant since early February. Valentine’s Day was a nightmare.”
So the next time you are accosted with praise, I hope you consider yourself well-equipped. Two words are all you need to escape unscathed.
And there you have it, my modest proposal.