I’m not very good at accepting compliments for my work. Really, I’m quite bad at it. It’s not that it happens all the time, but when I do receive a compliment I find the experience almost embarrassing. While I do enjoy hearing positive feedback and even constructive criticism about my work, I find flat-out compliments to be somewhat unnerving.
This may very well have been bred into my by my father who was focused and determined in his work and usually shrugged off praise as something that could obscure his focus and determination. He’d respond to a compliment with a kind thank you, but wouldn’t dwell and would move on with his work. Working alongside my dad taught me that the best reward you can get from your work is that you did the job correctly and to a high level of satisfaction; it’s quite okay to exceed expectations, just don’t gloat about it. Humility was key for my dad—there was no gloating, no bragging, no one-upmanship—with just the satisfaction of a job well done.
At the internet startup, the leadership was all about complimenting each other. And they lapped up any compliments that came from the staff. During company meetings the first 5-10 minutes was spent with the executive team slapping each other on their backs in front of 80 employees who were the ones directly responsible for executing whatever action was worthy of the accolades. There was not one shred of humility among the executive team. Every compliment was theirs to own, every criticism deflected to their team. Suggestions and feedback were met with “we know more than you” and ignored. The truly tragic part of this is that I’m fairly certain that the executive team simply did not know how to be humble; their entire existence was built around self-preservation and insecurity in their own abilities. And they didn’t know how to pay a compliment.
While I struggle with accepting compliments personally, I know how strong a compliment can be when given appropriately and genuinely. A simple “great job” is usually enough when someone has, indeed, done a great job. We need to compliment our staff to keep them satisfied and motivated; we also need to learn humility for ourselves. Humility is a fantastic human trait that can have a positive effect in the workplace—and it’s a great trait to teach by example. Share the compliments, accept the compliment, then get back to work.