Sunday, September 7, 2008

Compliments & Criticism: The Art of Graceful Acceptance

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
Mark Twain

How well do you take a compliment? I think women are sometimes better at it than men, but I’ve seen women lose their poise when complimented too. Why is it difficult to accept a little praise sometimes? Possibly we are afraid of being perceived as prideful and in agreement with the flattery. My mom frequently reminded my sister and me not to deflect or brush off a compliment. “Just respond with ‘thank you, how nice of you to say so,’” was her advice.

That’s more difficult than it seems like it should be. When I was younger I habitually responded to compliments with a self-effacing joke. As I get older I’m getting better at saying a simple thank you, possibly adding, “I’m glad you liked it.”

To me it’s just as off-putting to get a sense of false humility as arrogance when I deliver a sincere compliment. Come on—just spit it out instead of gushing with a pretense of modesty, “I am really pretty, aren’t I?... and wow, can I sing!” At least it’s authentic and you know where they stand! (OK, maybe not.)

Deep down, I think most of us share a little of Mark Twain’s sentiment in the quote above. We enjoy hearing something nice about ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. When a person genuinely appreciates something about us, it’s encouraging and inspiring to hear it spoken out loud. Most of us get too little affirmation, causing us to lack momentum. If our efforts result in others’ enjoyment, a kind reminder of that can fuel us for what we have to do next.

The flip side of this is our ability to accept criticism. I’m a bit of a perfectionist in some areas (not housekeeping or cooking) and dislike failing. I also really hate to disappoint people. That combination makes it somewhat hard for me to accept criticism graciously. I don’t really want to know how poorly I did or listen to a lot of “tips” on how I could do better. I usually just need a bit of time to come to terms with my lack of success (real or imagined). When I’ve regained my emotional equilibrium I am better able to learn from my mistakes and ask for advice.

I deeply admire those who seem to sincerely appreciate “constructive” criticism delivered to them immediately after they’re finished with what they’ve done. When I fall on my face, the only constructive things I want coming my way are chocolate and hugs. I’ll look for ways to improve later.

So, to offer some constructive criticism, let me remind you to graciously accept a compliment and try to be equally gracious with helpful criticism. But remember, as author Elbert Hubbard said, “To escape criticism—do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” You're welcome.
Diane Markins

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