Accepting Compliments

By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

We’re all guilty of it at one time or another: Someone thanks you for helping him or her, and you respond, “It was nothing.” A patient or family member praises you for the excellent care you gave, and you reply, “It’s just my job.”

The above responses, known as “compliment quashers,” only serve to devalue and demean you, your profession, and the person offering the praise. So why do we do it? Many of us were raised to believe that accepting praise or compliments was a sign of pride. Others have a misguided belief that acknowledging someone’s compliment means that they think they’re better than everyone else.

The truth is that gracious acknowledgement of compliments and praise validates the fact that you have value and worth, that your work and your actions matter, and that the person or group offering the praise has made a valid observation and that the recognition is truly appreciated.

On the flip side, if you routinely quash compliments and praise, you’re sending a message that you lack confidence and are unworthy of recognition. In professional situations, that message will reflect on all nurses. You’re also saying that the person offering the praise doesn’t know what he or she is talking about or that the observation is inaccurate. In other words, your negative response demeans the person complimenting you.

Word Perfect

Nurses often complain that their contributions, hard work, and expertise aren’t recognized. Yet many of us expertly deflect compliments, praise, and recognition — thereby discouraging those who praise us from ever doing it again. There’s an expression, “Be careful how you speak about yourself because others will take you at your word.”

Several years ago, I attended an award ceremony where several nurses were being honored for outstanding practice and professionalism. After being introduced, one of the awardees stepped up the podium and said to the smiling crowd, “I do not deserve this award.” Her attempt at being modest crossed the line into self-deprecation. I understand where this nurse was coming from; she didn’t want to be singled out when she thought all of her fellow nurses did as good a job as she did. However, she — and her profession — would have been better served if she had responded with something like, “I accept this award on behalf of all of my colleagues, who do an outstanding job every day.” Being humble and gracious is one thing. Undervaluing yourself is another.

Recondition Your Response

Of course, much of this is learned behavior that can be reversed with a change in attitude, perspective, and response. From here on in, value your knowledge and contributions and acknowledge praise and recognition. Even if you don’t feel worthy, act as if you were by simply saying, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” When you’re thanked for helping, graciously reply, “It was my pleasure” or “Anytime.”

When someone tells you that you did a good job or handled a situation well, regardless of whether you agree, acknowledge the praise by simply saying, “Thank you.” Don’t argue! If a patient or family member compliments you on the excellent care you provide or how helpful you are, say, “Thank you. I appreciate your saying so,” rather than diminishing the person’s perspective and your own value by saying, “That’s just my job” or “That’s what I get paid for.”

If you’re a manager or team leader and a superior compliments you on a job well done that involved your entire department, don’t deflect the compliment by saying, “I didn’t do anything — the team did all the work.” Instead, accept the praise and acknowledge your coworkers at the same time by saying, “Thank you. I had a good team to work with. They all did their part.” With this approach, everyone is a winner.

Even if you’re uncomfortable with compliments and recognition, you can change your behavior and your response to acknowledge that you, your work, and your colleagues have value. You also honor the person who offers the praise and encourage more of the same in the future.

We all deserve recognition and praise. Learn how good it feels to bask in the compliment. Next time one comes your way, just smile and say, “Thank you. Glad I could do it.”

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