How well do you give and receive compliments? This is a question that I’ve asked several Springboard and Sprint groups over the last months.

Some people nod wisely and say they’ve been working on this aspect of assertiveness. But still for the majority there is a great challenge in being able to say a simple ‘thank you’ when presented a compliment.

Reasons for being reluctant to accept praise can vary from the fear to being thought arrogant/big-headed, to the suspicion that compliments are false or untrue (or just given in order to generate a returned compliment).

Understandably there are some ‘it depends’ reactions also – we are living through interesting times as the dark world of sexual harassment is exposed more starkly day by day. It’s true that some compliments may feel creepy or suspiciously ominous. Our gut reaction knows tells us that we really don’t want to receive them – and let’s be quite clear, those kind of compliments are definitely unwelcome and require rejection.

Having weeded those out, let’s focus on the good, positive types of compliments. The ones that are genuine and are designed to support/boost/nurture us – in Springboard terms, those compliments that are real gifts. When we receive a physical gift from someone we seldom think of just handing it straight back – even if it was unexpected, we mostly appreciate the thought and say thank you.

So if we look at a compliment in the same way, we need to say ‘thank you’ without handing it back. We need to give ourselves permission to have the spotlight shine on us – and learn to glow. And in doing so we become role models for others who would normally shy away from praise. Let’s work on developing cultures where we genuinely uplift each other with good support and feedback.

On the other side of the coin, therefore, we also need to actively look for opportunities to give good feedback and praise. Obviously it has to be authentic and meaningful – but there are so many times when we could say something good and we hold back for all the usual fears of embarrassment, looking a fool etc.

A few weeks ago, working with a colleague at university, I had a strong need to tell her how amazing she was to initiate a new Sprint programme. She hesitated to accept the compliment – but then she simply glowed and said ‘thank you’. That exchange has given me great comfort because I never saw my colleague again – she died suddenly later that week.

So I urge you to take every opportunity to say the good things that you think about your colleagues, your friends, your family members, the people who serve you in shops/cafes/public places.

People may look hesitant and they may even hand back the gift. But in the long run we can, in a small way, make our world better by saying good things to people and accepting the good things they say to us.

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