Giving and Receiving Compliments–An Important Leadership Practice and Receiving Compliments–An Important Leadership Practice

Article Summary: 

Many people are poor at giving and receiving compliments. That’s a shame. High-performance teams are superb at this skill, and praise can make a big difference in motivation.



What’s Wrong with This Exchange?

Sam: “Amy, you did a great job on that rush project last week.”
Amy (looking away and down): “It was no big deal.”

Amy virtually dismissed Sam’s compliment.

Instead, she might have smiled, looked him in his eyes, and said, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.” Or, if multiple people were involved, she might have said, “Thank you so much. We really appreciate that. I’ll let Bill and Mary know what you said. They also worked hard on that project.”


Would You Refuse a Gift Giver to Their Face?

A compliment is gift. You might be embarrassed to hear it? You might wish to deflect the praise or appear humble? Or perhaps you feel unworthy of praise? But deflecting a compliment denigrates the gift being offered. It degrades the praise.

If someone offers you a compliment, look them straight in the eyes, smile, and simply say, “Thank you.” If there are others who deserve the praise, add that you’ll relay the compliment to them. Then be silent and take it in. Receive it. Show your sincere appreciation in your facial and body language. More words run the risk of deflecting the compliment.

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


High-Performance Teams Pay Frequent Compliments

High-performance teams take the time to stop and compliment their colleagues with specific, sincere praise. They let their praise show through on their face and body language. If the person they’re complimenting brushes it off, they make sure the person hears and feels what’s being said.

High-performance team members have a healthy balance between confidence and humility. They don’t need to seek out compliments to bolster their ego. Nor are they so self-deprecating that they reject heartfelt praise.

Sincere praise given and received can be accomplished in less than a minute and may make all the difference in how both people feel. Our professional lives are filled with problems, stress, and negativity. Triple crown leaders (those who aim to build an organization that’s excellent, ethical, and enduring) know how to give and receive compliments. Try practicing it and teaching others how to do it by your example. That’s genuine leadership.



When receiving a compliment, don’t deflect the gift someone gives you of a compliment. Smile, look them in the eye, and respond with a sincere, “Thank you.” When you give a compliment, stop, smile, look them in the eyes, and tell them specifically what they did to deserve praise. If they deflect your words, try again to let them feel your appreciation.


Reflection Questions

  1. Do you deflect compliments?
  2. Are you specific and genuine in giving compliments?
  3. Will you practice giving and receiving compliments generously and sincerely?


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Tools for You:

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.


Postscript: Quotations on Compliments

  • “There are two things people want more than sex and money—recognition and praise.” -Mary Kay Ash, founder Mary Kay Cosmetics
  • “The best advice is often the compliments received, and they are often about an associate who did something exceptional. I tell my teams that it’s the random acts of kindness, the unexpected, that people remember most.” -Barry Sternlicht, CEO, Starwood Capital Group
  • “I will be generous with my love today. I will sprinkle compliments and uplifting words everywhere I go. I will do this knowing that my words are like seeds and when they fall on fertile soil, a reflection of those seeds will grow into something greater.”-Steve Maraboli, author
  • “You have to love yourself or you’ll never be able to accept compliments from anyone.” -Dean Wareham, musician
  • “It is a great mistake for men to give up paying compliments, for when they give up saying what is charming, they give up thinking what is charming.” -Oscar Wilde
  • “After years of self-deprecating behavior, I’ve never learned how to properly take a compliment. A part of me wants to argue with him, to tell him there’s nothing special about me.”-Brynna Gabrielson, author

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Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors. They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Best Articles or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! and Receiving Compliments–An Important Leadership Practice

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