On Accepting Praise: a Service to Others

This was written for a speech. It has been slightly edited to be read instead of spoken. 

We applaud our guest musicians at the end of each service, as I’m sure we will do again today. When we do this, I always find it interesting to watch our musicians receive the applause. Some accept it with grace and aplomb, but I sometimes get the impression that others find it awkward.

I have observed this in Toastmasters as well. For those that are not familiar with it, Toastmasters is a speaking and leadership organization. As a volunteer-run organization, most of the time the only remuneration for your speaking or other work is applause or compliments. The first time someone speaks at a club, they seem to want to run off the stage afterward; the applause is uncomfortable for them to accept. I know from experience that after dozens of speeches it gets easier, but it continues to be difficult for some, including myself.

It’s something I’m working on. I have always been willing to give of my self and my time, it being something my mother instilled in her children from an early age. However, at the same time, she taught us through her actions that it’s best to brush away acknowledgement.

Here’s an example scenario; see if you recognize the voice of someone you know:

“Here’s a nice home-cooked meal.”
“Oh, thank you so much. The new baby is keeping us up so much, and I’ve been too tired to cook anything.”
“Oh, it was nothing.”

It was nothing? You just happened to be driving by with a full dinner? I think not. What you did was give a grand gift to that family.

“It was nothing” was my standard response until a friend called me on it in my mid-twenties. She pointed out that it’s appropriate to accept thanks as a genuine outpouring of emotion — it’s an opportunity to connect on a basic human level. In minimizing the appreciation expressed, you may force the other party to up the ante: “No really, thank you! This is incredible!” Refusing a person’s gratitude is less about humility than it is about your own ingratitude. A person’s thanks is a gift to you that should not be refused.

I know I’m not alone in having trouble simply saying “you’re welcome.” There are cultures where this ‘waving away’ is encouraged, and accepting the thanks would be seen as conceited. My Minnesota-bred mother and grandmother both embodied this way of thinking.

In addition to receiving applause and gratitude gracefully, I have also had to learn how to accept a basic compliment without diminishing it. Last year I resonated with the Forbes magazine article “Just Say Thanks: Why Accepting Compliments is Good for Your Career.” The article focused on the behavior of women, but in my experience, it applies to anyone: “Knowing how to accept compliments the right way is a crucial skill to learn.” The author notes that by deflecting praise, you are not only dismissing your abilities and worth, but also another person’s evaluation and opinion of you. I suggest that rather than undermining your friends and colleagues by negating their assessment, accepting the compliment conveys the esteem in which you hold them and their feedback.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you go overboard: “I’m glad you are happy, I spent 30 hours cooking this,” or “Yep, I’m a rock god!” Instead, I suggest gently opening yourself up to the praise as it’s given. So, the next time someone applauds, thanks, or compliments you, and you are tempted to refuse or minimize: Pause. Smile. And say, “You’re welcome!”

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