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Why, Thank You

On the Art of Accepting Praise


    While waiting in line for a coffee recently, I overheard one woman complimenting another on her jacket. The woman wearing the attractive jacket quickly dismissed the praise and changed the subject. It was an uncomfortable moment for both of them—and even for me, a mere bystander.
    This wasn’t the first time I noticed that there can be something very complicated about graciously receiving a compliment. To my mind, the ideal way is to convey sincere appreciation, as well as modesty. For some, this simple reflex is a no-brainer, but for others, like me, it can be elusive. I can’t claim to know what was going on with the woman in line, but I do know that some of us fear that responding to a compliment too hurriedly could come off as thinking we deserve the praise. But by ignoring, playing down or even apologizing for whatever earned the compliment, we often invalidate the other person’s good will.
    A common exchange I’ve heard (and have been guilty of) is, “I just love your shoes!” “Oh, these. I got these last year, on sale.” While intended as humble, this approach risks devaluing the person’s judgment, leaving her deflated. Not good. One more not-so-good approach I’ve witnessed is immediately returning a compliment. Even if it’s sincere, this sort of impulsive reciprocal adulation is unlikely to be heard as genuine.
    Of course, there are those who just by their nature can combine the right dose of humility with the perfect amount of gratitude, and never cause the giver to squirm. Such people seem to understand that compliments are just verbal gifts, to be received graciously like any other gift; that the exchange of sentiments in such a situation is not just about the receiver, but is as much about the person who went out of her way to offer the kind words. When you look at it that way, it’s sure easier to just say “thank you.”
    I’ve come to realize that the best compliments can be indirect. When someone sincerely laughs at your joke, it is a compliment; when someone invites you to her home a second time, it is a compliment; when someone confides in you, it is a compliment. These types of gifts speak more loudly than words and mean more in the long run. And they carry the added benefit of not requiring a specific response.
    The ways and means to express admiration are endless. For me the bottom line is this: Whatever the kudos, however it is delivered, a compliment is a magical thing. Bravo to those who have the knack for giving and receiving graciously. To withhold praise or underestimate its positive force, or to diminish its sender, is to miss out on some pretty darn good stuff.
    Erich Segal got it all wrong in Love Story: Saying something nice means never having to say you’re sorry.                   
E-mail Gina Jaber at ginajab@yahoo.com.

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