It took years of practice for me to respond to compliments with a sincere ‘Thank you’. What made the biggest difference for me was noticing how much better it felt when I gave a genuine compliment to have it received graciously, rather than deflected or downright denied. It’s rather like giving someone a well-chosen gift and having it returned or rejected. Quite deflating.
Then I learned something else that I found astounding. I learnt that ‘Thank you’ was a very effective response to negative feedback too. Yes, criticism.
Let me explain. If someone pays you a compliment, they are giving you positive feedback, or an opinion they have about you, like a gift. So the obvious response is to receive it graciously by saying 'thank you'. We all know that other people's opinions do not always match our own, just as other people's tastes in gifts don't always match our own. People often give us things we don't want or need or even like. Nevertheless, as polite adults, we say 'thank you' all the same.
This can also be applied to criticism. It is someone's opinion that they are offering that you may not want or need or like, but if you can find it within yourself to say 'thank you', it feels amazingly powerful and gracious (and very grown up!)
Other people's opinions of us, both positive and negative, are just that - their opinions - which say as much about them as they do about us. So if we can just say 'thank you', it helps to remind us of that and not take it as a personal affront.
I was put firmly back in my box once by a young friend who told me he was moving in with his (very new) girlfriend. I gave him the (unasked-for) benefit of my long experience and wisdom in such matters, advising him to wait for a few more months, to which he replied, "Thanks for your opinion, Kay. We'll have you over for dinner next week as soon as she's moved in”.
It's disarming to be on the receiving end if you criticise someone's ideas or actions to have them reply with a charming 'thank you'. You feel listened to, respected and, well, delectably dismissed!
Simply accepting negative feedback with a ‘thank you’, rather than reacting defensively, allows you time to consider their opinions unemotionally and perhaps even learn from them.
I’ve been very lucky to have had people brave enough to give me invaluable feedback over the years, without which I'd have still been ‘full of self-pity’, ‘over-reacting to everything’ and being a ‘control freak’, to name just a few of the 'opinions' I've been offered. I'm so thankful to the people who pointed out my blind spots, because realising those traits has allowed me to free myself from them and go on to live a much happier life.
Now as I mentor leaders, I'm often reminded how people in all walks of life struggle with both giving and receiving feedback. If only we could all learn the power of 'thank you', it would make doing both so much simpler and more effective.