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Letting Success Shine

Why It's So Hard

When friends compliment a new haircut or recent promotion, women sometimes find it easier to deflect praise rather than accept the kind words. Ever wondered why? Dr. Katherine Rogers, assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga College of Psychology, points to a few reasons – and offers some great advice on how women can shine with confidence.

We want to meet perceived expectations.

“Many women feel society expects them to respond to praise in a certain way,” says Rogers. “So rather than acknowledging it, they might choose to deflect thinking others would rather they be quiet, agreeable, and adaptable. This behavioral pattern has been part of our social structure for decades and reflects the time when most women were homemakers. It wasn’t seen as useful for homemakers to highlight their abilities, because men were expected to be more successful and climb the ladder.”

We want to appear likable.

“Often, women feel that if they highlight their strengths or accept compliments, they will come across as arrogant or unfeminine,” Rogers says.  Unfortunately, this notion isn’t without grounds.

woman looking to the side

Research shows women in the workplace who highlight their accomplishments may be viewed as more competent, but less likable. The American Psychological Association also found that women who succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields – such as engineering and finance – are often thought to be unsociable and/or difficult to work with.

We prioritize other qualities.

Whether it’s from watching their mothers put others first or their friends downplay achievements, many women have learned to value self-effacement over self-promotion. “We’ve been socialized to believe that modesty and helpfulness lead to more positive outcomes,” Rogers says. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be sensitive in social situations and show concern for others. But when the desire to appear modest and humble always dictates our behavior, it can be very difficult to celebrate accomplishments.

Accepting Compliments with Grace

If praise makes you squirm, you’re not alone. Graciously accepting compliments isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. Here are six tips for taking it like a champ.

  • Pause. “Take a beat before you answer,” Rogers recommends. There’s no need to rush. Give yourself a minute to quiet your inner critic and consider the best reaction.
  • Don’t deflect. It can be easy to change the topic quickly or place the attention back on the other person with an immediate follow-up compliment. Resist the impulse.
  • Avoid minimizing it. Before dismissing a compliment about your dress by saying you bought it on sale, ask yourself why the person needs to know that. “There is no need to try and downplay it,” says Rogers.
  • Receive it at face value. When you don’t accept a compliment, it can make the other person feel awkward and imply that you question his or her judgement. Make it a positive interaction by accepting what you hear.
  • Enjoy it! If you struggle with low self-esteem, this can be the hardest step. But why not treat yourself with the same love and acceptance that you would show your best friend?
  • Say thank you. Let them know you appreciate it. “If the compliment is particularly meaningful to you for any reason, tell them why,” says Rogers.

It works both ways!

By accepting a compliment, we can make the other person feel good, too. So don’t be afraid to let your friends know when something they say is meaningful! “Expressing sincere appreciation can strengthen the personal connection between giver and receiver,” Rogers say. 

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