The Delicate Art of Responding to Praise

The Delicate Art of Responding to Praise

Last update: 01 April, 2020

Responding elegantly to praise is not an easy art to master. Maybe it’s embarrassing and you downplay it, or you don’t and you come off ungrateful or proud … The point is that finding a balance is not as simple as it seems. In fact, it’s very easy to do it badly.

While it’s true that many people only receive compliments — after all, giving a compliment is another art few master — that doesn’t justify ungratefulness from the person being praised.

Many times we feel so uncomfortable with compliments or praise others give us because we don’t know how to take it.

If you really think about it, sometimes this is why we play it down and try to not seem arrogant. We end up rejecting or discounting the praise or compliment. We forget that what is expected of us is that we are grateful, not necessarily modest.

And then sometimes we use humor to deflect the praise, or just get awkward. Let’s take a look at that now…


Why do some people ignore or downplay praise

We can accept, ignore, deflect, or even deny praise. You can also react with self-criticism, argue, or negotiate.

But why is it so hard for us to accept it? Why would we go to great lengths to push it away and put ourselves down? After all, it’s nice to be appreciated for what we do or what we are.

a woman giving another praise

Some reasons we find it hard to fully accept a compliment are the following:

  • Fear of being seen as vain. This is the most common reason people deflect or ignore a compliment. They feel that agreeing with someone’s praise is to essentially praise themselves, being arrogant.
  • The need to restore balance. Since a compliment is a positive act, the individual may feel a psychological need to balance how they feel, either denying praise or quickly returning the compliment.
  • Desire to not be in debt. This concern implies that if someone does or says something nice as a compliment, then you owe something equal in return. Therefore, you will be in debt to that person in some way. So by denying it, the feeling of indebtedness disappears.
  • Having low self-esteem. If someone says something good about us that we don’t believe, we may even deny it. By not agreeing with this view of ourselves we’ll look for a way to confirm that their evaluation is wrong.
  • Inability to be assertive. Lack of assertiveness usually gives people problems accepting praise, let alone responding to them. Therefore, we advise practicing this social skill to improve your relationships.
  • We suspect impure motives. If we believe that there’s some kind of hidden agenda behind someone’s praise, our first reaction will be to reject it. In some circumstances, this could be correct.
  • Desire to show an even better image of yourself. People sometimes use false modesty as a way to try to give a better image of themselves. Hence, sometimes we downplay compliments in order to look good.

Accepting praise

Before we can learn to be graciously grateful for praise, we must learn to truly accept it. Compliments may come with wrong intentions and insincerity, but in most cases they do come with good intentions.

Whatever the intention, people expect their praise to be accepted. And this response must be made modestly — but not with false modesty — and with gratitude.

The problem is that, as we have said, most of the time people deflect or ignore praise.

a man and woman working together

However, just because it’s a common reaction it doesn’t mean it’s right, if only because not being grateful for praise usually isn’t polite — or smart. In fact, denying or deflecting praise implies contradicting or even offending the other person.


How to respond to praise with grace and without false modesty

The art of responding to praise is knowing how to say thanks with sincerity and authenticity. It’s that easy. You don’t need to justify anything. You don’t need to add anything.

The person who praises you only expects you to accept it and thank them. In most occasions, saying thanks is all you have to do.

Of course, we cannot forget the importance of nonverbal communication, especially with our eyes. Looking at the person while you thank them, maybe shaking hands if appropriate, is essential.

Sometimes the right thing is a hug. These gestures are usually much more significant than anything you can say.

If praise is the result of a collaborative effort, don’t forget to recognize the contributions of the other people, especially those who are sometimes overlooked.

Mentioning the people who helped and inspired you or went through something with you is a great way to acknowledge their value.

two friends having a pleasant conversation

In any case, don’t say little things to reject the compliment. Things like “it was nothing”, or “don’t worry about it”, or “no problem” show false modesty and may be taken as a personal rejection.

If you need to say something more than thank you, look for something positive to say.

You should also avoid thanking them by returning the compliment. Many people believe that responding to a compliment with another compliment is being grateful, but it sounds forced and insincere.

If you work hard to get where you are, if you try to look good every day, why reject the great feedback you get from others? You deserve it.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.