Krug: Four ways to accept a compliment
Krug: Four ways to accept a compliment

Let’s give the polling company the day off and forego the commissioning of a study to prove what we already know: Most employees do not feel appreciated by their supervisors.

Even in environments where associates are happy, there are many that believe their team leader doesn’t compliment them as .....

Let’s give the polling company the day off and forego the commissioning of a study to prove what we already know: Most employees do not feel appreciated by their supervisors.

Even in environments where associates are happy, there are many that believe their team leader doesn’t compliment them as often as he or she should and, more important, when they think praise is deserved. Fair enough. Most people thrive on praise, and praise costs nothing, so it would reason that bosses across the world would be lobbing compliments around in all directions.

So why doesn’t that happen? Why does it seem to some that they can work weeks or months without some form of positive reinforcement being directed their way?

Well, it could be that many people aren’t very good at accepting praise. We want it, but then aren’t sure what to do when we receive it.

Although it is essential for employees to be acknowledged when they’ve accomplished something or performed their duties at a level that rises above satisfactory, it is equally important for the compliment to be accepted appropriately. One will not come without the other. Certainly, they won’t come as often.

Think of the compliment as a pass and the acknowledgement of the praise as the reception. Compliments given that are not accepted fall incomplete and result in a loss of down, no yards gained and a lower probability that the supervisor throws a complement back into the direction of that receiver. Again, there’s probably no reason to launch a study into this matter.

Performing supervisory responsibilities, especially for less experienced or lower-level and middle managers, can be challenging. People in these positions are managing a number of different tasks and, in all likelihood, still are responsible for tasks not unlike those of their charges. As such, they are in the soup much of the time and focused on getting their jobs right while they juggle tasks to ensure that the people on their team are performing at or above the expectations of their supervisors. Literally, it can be a thankless gig.

Research conducted in 2004 by academic Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada that looked at 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams within a large information-processing company showed that the highest performers earned 5.6 positive comments on their work for every criticism. You can check out a story on the study on the Harvard Business Review blog and dig deeper into the research yourself.

I suspect that those numbers may not hold up in today’s workplace, where a rising generation of Millenials have been raised to expect praise in much more frequent intervals – and with prizes attached – have become vital to our companies’ success.

I don’t place blame them for this shift. These young adults are the children of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. We’ve raised them that way. Millenials have grown up in prosperity and surrounded by technology that praises them with points for shooting bugs in video games.

Everyone gets a trophy, and the ball that went through the shortstop’s legs that cost her team the game was merely one play in a game composed of dozens of successful moments. You made the error? Shake it off. We’re all still going to Dairy Queen after the game. Hurray for participation! Woo-hoo, we’re all great!

Now if you are managing such a situation, you will see the full spectrum. You will be blessed with ideas and talent and passion. But your team will need far more love and attention and appreciation to achieve best possible outcomes and to continue to grow in your business.

Nonetheless, associates of all generations can be wont to deflect praise – whether offered in public or privately.

In these critical interpersonal office relationships, it is important that there is enough praise and that it comes isolated from criticism. No “sandwich compliments” (a slice of praise, criticism stuffed in the middle, followed by a second slice of praise) here. No, to effectively praise someone, those words must be free from ulterior motive and be clear.

After you’ve got the hang of that, supervisor, it then is time for you, associate, to do your part.

Any of these four ways to accept a compliment will ensure that they continue to flow your way:

Thank you: At the risk of sounding too much like a cornball or an old-timer, any compliment that meets your ears can be accepted with the two words, “thank you,” delivered back with the same level of energy. It affirms the supervisor’s faith in your work, and offers an affirmative acceptance of the praise. Time tested and true, there is no better way to show your appreciation for any compliment than to say, “thank you.”

• A nod and a note: If you are not fond of being praised in public, or in front of peers, the simple act of making eye contact with the supervisor, nodding and then following up with a note soon thereafter is a perfectly acceptable way of accepting and acknowledging praise.

A fist-bump: Everyone has his or her own personality, and each of us comes from a different background. For former competitive ballplayers, a gushing reply to a compliment simply isn’t part of the deal. Most athletes have been conditioned to believe that achievement comes with a sense of humility. For them, a firm handshake, fist-bump or soft high-five with eye contact says just as much as the words “thank you,” and actually might prove contagious if your room is high energy and contains a number of ex-athletes. Pros don’t email, so don’t bother checking that inbox for a follow-up note.

Extemporaneous acceptance: Life is unscripted, so there is no perfect way to acknowledge every possible piece of praise or to cover all potential scenarios. Your team is your team, and it is intentionally composed of individuals. When you offer words of praise to a member of your team, her or she may say something resembling, “absolutely” or “right on” or “you’ve got it.” If you hear anything like that come back your way after a compliment, consider the pass complete.

You’ll note that nowhere in there were the words “no problem.” No matter how well intentioned those words may be when used, they simply do not translate directly into “thank you.” And if your folks are working with external clients – especially those that may be a generation or two ahead of them – caution them from this response, which still does not resonate well with some people.

And “no problem” as a response probably won’t ring true until Millenials run the world. So many of us expect to be in Florida, sipping margaritas at poolside by then.

• • •


As always, stay classy.

Chris Krug is president of the progressive media communications firm No Limit Agency in Chicago. No Limit is a full-service agency whose practice focuses on strategy, brand management, creative campaigns and delivering unparalleled placement in the media. No Limit Agency works with some of the best-known brands in North America, and that’s not a coincidence. Contact Krug by calling 312-526-3996 or via email at [email protected].

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