Accepting Recognition with Grace
According to Globoforce, 78% of employees would work harder if they were better recognized. Feeling appreciated at work is a key driver for employee engagement and employee satisfaction. The majority of employees want to be recognized, but there are some who have a hard time with how to accept that praise without feeling selfish, conceited, embarrassed, or unworthy, eliciting responses of “Oh, it was nothing” or “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“We are prepared for insults, but compliments leave us baffled.” Mason Cooley
For some, this notion that compliments can be baffling makes no sense. It’s unrelatable and perhaps even a little unbelievable. But for some of us, the struggle to accept praise and recognition is very real. Why DO some of us struggle to accept recognition?
High performers struggle.
As I look around at others in a high-performing organization, the struggle to accept praise with grace is pervasive. It cuts across gender, age, and tenure.
High performers often hold themselves to a higher set of expectations than others hold them to. High performers are also self-motivated and, as a result, highly critical of their own work. Our drive to continuously improve stems from this desire to produce something that is “perfect,” even though we know that “perfect” is unattainable. We see the flaws, the holes, and the “what could have been.” It’s hard for us to be still, settle in, and enjoy the glow of a job well done.
For others, being surrounded by high performers can lead to a touch of imposter syndrome. I’m not good enough to be here. I’m a total fraud. I’m not smart enough, creative enough, or innovative enough. And when others do point out the good, it can feel crafted and inauthentic, like we’re being pandered to or someone is simply trying to be polite.
And then there are times when it’s just flat out embarrassing. We have enough self-awareness to know that, for our success to happen, there were 1,000 steps along that journey where we had help from others. Taking sole credit for a job well done feels a bit self-centered and conceited. (Besides, teamwork does make the dream work.)
The unproductive result.
As a result, we deflect. We point out the flaws in the work. We say it was no big deal. We highlight the 37 other individuals who helped us get to this moment. Inadvertently, we invalidate the person who took their own time, effort, and energy to provide us with positive feedback that we so quickly rejected!
By breaking that feedback loop, we create this self-fulfilling prophecy where we deflect or reject the compliment, leaving the giver quite confused. Over time, we teach this person to not compliment us. This leaves us feeling even more like an imposter because now we aren’t getting any recognition at all. (In behavior analysis, this has a name: operant conditioning.)
Those of us who struggle with praise need to adjust our mindset a bit, to understand that praise is a gift. When we deflect or push back, we are basically saying, “No, you’re wrong. Praise not accepted. Take this gift back.” We wouldn’t dream of having that reaction to physical gifts, so we need to adjust our mindset to view praise and recognition for the gifts that they are. There are two key ways to adjust how you accept praise: changing your external reaction and changing your internal dialogue.
Adjust your external reaction.
It’s sort of simple: just say, “Thank you.” If you want to get a little fancier, you could reflect back. “It was nice of you to take the time to recognize me. Thank you.” Or, “Thank you. I appreciate it.” Or “Thank you, that was thoughtful of you to say.” You could acknowledge the team effort. “Thank you. The contributions of so many made this possible.” The least common denominator is always, “Thank you.”
The hardest part with this switch will be learning the new behavior. You may feel awkward or uncomfortable saying “Thank you.” If you try this out and feel like it isn’t working, then you might want to consider what your internal dialogue sounds like.
Adjust your internal dialogue.
First, acknowledge those voices in your head that tell you are not good enough, smart enough, or creative enough, and let them go. Then get honest about your accomplishments.
Finding this hard to do? Update your resume as if you were looking for a new job. Reflecting on your accomplishments through this lens of objectivity will push you forward into the idea of creating more positive internal dialogue.
Use these accomplishments as a way to craft positive self-talk. Think about a few self-affirmations. Write them down. Then say them out loud. Do whatever you need to do to get comfortable with the positive so that when someone else sees it in you, recognizes it, and acknowledges it out loud, you’ll be more able to mentally accept their praise. They will simply be reflecting back something familiar that you have already seen and acknowledged in yourself. You will no longer be baffled by it.
Gracefully accepting recognition.
Accepting the gift of recognition can be difficult, but learning to do so keeps that feedback loop spinning in a healthy direction. When you create an internal dialogue that is more positive, you’ll be more prepared to accept recognition from others. And when you catch yourself deflecting recognition, pause and choose words of appreciation and acceptance. When we receive recognition with grace, we are contributing to a positive team environment for ourselves and the people who are trying to recognize us. And when teams are happy and engaged, that’s when an organization can truly flourish.