Similar to the topic I discussed last week ("saying what you mean"), this topic--accepting a compliment--also seems like it should be straightforward. But, for many people it is notably difficult. That said, my recommendation for accepting compliments is simple:
Step 1: Say "thank you," "I appreciate it," or something else that acknowledges that the compliment was meaningful to you in a positive way.
Step 2: You're done!
For some people, both Step 1 and especially Step 2 are challenging. Particularly, for individuals suffering from low self-esteem, it can be hard to accept that we might merit a compliment.
Think for a moment how many times you have received a compliment but started to discredit yourself. The "thank you" of Step 1 bleeds into a "thank you, but..." Or, perhaps you might find yourself so rejecting of the compliment that you skip the "thank you" all together and immediately begin speaking about how the job for which you're being complimented was easy. Or, maybe after you receive the compliment, you take a swipe at yourself to negate the compliment (for example, saying "It was all luck; I'm actually terrible at this").
Even if you believe these things to be true, an often unforeseen problem with this approach is that it inadvertently dismisses or rejects the beliefs and emotions of the person offering the compliment. These negating comments not only give voice to our own insecurities, but they also insert potentially unnecessary or unwanted emotional distance between the person offering the compliment and the person receiving the compliment. They also have a way of reinforcing our belief system and dragging our self-esteem lower than it already is. (See my post on improving self-esteem for a discussion about how being hard on ourselves affects us.)
Of course, there are times when compliments should be rebuffed, especially when we are given credit for others' work. For example, if your boss thanks you for getting a job done that was 100% managed by a coworker, it is appropriate to give credit to the coworker. But even in a situation like that, you can still verbally acknowledge appreciation of the intent to compliment, even if the compliment was misplaced. And, if you did 25% of that job, certainly do not sell yourself short.
Have trouble accepting compliments, possibly due to low self-esteem? Feel free to contact me. I am reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org and 484-222-6436. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation.