WASHINGTON, January 28, 2014 – Many of us get very embarrassed when someone tells us something nice about ourselves. We get shy, try to change the subject, or flatly reject praise. What makes us unable to sit still long enough to receive a compliment?
Like many of you, I have experienced this feeling many times in my life. So too has my neighbor John, the father of Danny, a 9-year-old boy. Just recently, John told me about a conversation he had with his son, an aspiring athlete like so many boys his age. John was trying to determine what sport his son would want to play in the upcoming spring season. Sitting down with Danny, John asked, “Do you want to keep playing tee-ball this season? You loved it last year!” Danny thought for a moment and then answered with a question: “Are the coaches going to pitch the ball?”
Before John even answered, he could see that his son had grown past tee-ball. He listened to what his son really wanted. John understood that Danny wanted something more, that he wanted to be more interactive and to play baseball with teammates as pitchers, as they do in the big leagues on television. Because this was not an option, John asked, “How about soccer?”
The boy’s eyes lit up with excitement.
As I listened to this story, I thought, “What a great dad, listening to his child. John didn’t just hear Danny’s words: he looked deeper for what mattered to his son.”
I was moved when I heard John tell the story. I wanted to tell John how I admired him – to pay him a compliment. I said, “John, you were very good at listening to your son…”
But before I could even finish that little sentence, that small bit of praise, John loudly protested, “Ah no, I didn’t do anything!”
His rebuttal came so fast, so reflexively, I had to ask John to let me finish my sentence, because I had something I wanted to say. My husband, who was with us, chimed in. “Dude, Linda wants to give you a compliment!”
I watched my neighbor’s face turn red. He sheepishly stood still and looked at us with an expression of a little boy in trouble. I then reiterated what I had said, with a little more flowery language. John stood still and said thank you, and then got right back into telling another story.
This experience reminded me of something very human for many of us. We get so nervous and uncomfortable when people are tell us something nice that we can’t wait to change the subject or bat it away.
Earlier on, when I was a new therapist, I was in a group with other therapists where we talked about our cases, growing our business and even ourselves. The leader of the group was particularly experienced and had a well-regarded wisdom. At one point during the discussion, I brought up a case that I was working on, and a solution I found to solve my patient’s issue. The other therapists nodded in approval as I spoke, and one therapist began to pay me a compliment for what I had done.
Instinctually, I brushed off the compliment and redirected the credit to someone else. My mentor – the wisest therapist in the group – stopped everything with his simple words, “Linda, Anna was giving you a compliment. You could benefit by exercising your receiving muscle.”
It took a moment for me to understand what he was saying, but soon after I started watching myself when I reflexively batted away a compliment. I started to practice receiving – exercising my receiving muscle. And every time I would relax just enough to receive, I felt something wonderful…acceptance, admiration, love. It was the feeling you are supposed to feel when complimented – the opposite of embarrassment.
It just takes practice to sit still and let something good wash over you. I like to help my clients understand this concept too. Sometimes I share a poem that helps me remember.
It is an art to receive
To receive well is a gift to others
When one is not able to listen to a compliment, he or she denies the giver the pleasure of the telling. Even if you are not a forceful person who might tell a person to stop talking, try and listen when you hear something good about yourself. If you can think about receiving what they are telling you, you might be surprised at what you hear. You’ll be able to give back something special and they will have the pleasure of knowing their kind words were received.
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