Ever receive a compliment and find yourself uncomfortable or embarrassed? You might have had thoughts like: "They are just manipulating me." "They are lying." "I didn't do that good, I should have done better."
Most compliments contain words that imply judgment and evaluation. This can make them very difficult to hear. Someone tells you who you are or how well you did something. For example, "You are such a great musician." Or "You played an incredible game."
Compliment like these can be tricky for a few reasons. One, they put the other person in the position of your judge. Their words put you in a box – "the great musician", "the relaxed person", "the so organized person" etc. As a multidimensional ever-changing being, you don't like being in a box. Other parts of you squirm knowing that there are other times when you are not "a great musician".
Two, compliments can trigger your inner comparing voice. The comparing voice brings up your ideal and compares you to it. So if someone says "you are a great musician", you compare yourself to a better musician or a higher standard in music and feel crappy.
Three, compliments can rise to the internal critic that says, "I'm good if…" This is dangerous territory because it can hijack your connection to your innate worth (goodness, divinity, beauty, jewel, etc.). When your sense of self-worth depends on how well you perform or judgments from yourself or others, you are in for a roller coaster ride of emotions, not to mention a continuous battle to prove your worth.
Feedback from others is important, don't get me wrong. It is important for you to know if what you are doing is meeting needs or not, because one of your most important needs is to contribute. And here is where you can turn compliments around. Instead of hearing compliments listed in the ways above, you can hear feedback about how you have contributed.
With different ears on, you can translate "you are a great musician" to hearing the person say "listening to you play I feel really happy because important needs of mine are met." In giving you a compliment, the person is really trying to celebrate with you that their needs were met by something you did.
Hearing a compliment in this way you win on two counts. One you can connect to and celebrate with the person giving you the compliment. Two, you can also celebrate that your need for contribution was met.
Here's the catch. Putting on different ears and translating a compliment is not always easy. It might take a little work on your end. You might have to ask some questions and make some guesses to get to the observation (what specific thing you did that met the other's need), feeling, need, and request. Here's an example of what I have done when I received a compliment from a student:
Student: "This was a great class. You are really an excellent teacher."
Me: "Oh, great! What did you like about the class?"
Student: "Just the whole class was great."
Me: "Do you have any specifics about what worked for you?"
Student: "I really liked using the need cards. It helped understand the process better."
Me: "Yea, sounds like a real shift in learning happened for you there and you feel excited about that." (I am restating the need here to see if I am hearing them and I am guessing the feeling.)
Student: "Yea, well, I really feel relieved that I am finally getting this stuff. Now I am going to try this with my mom." (Connecting clearly with her feeling and need, the student then moved to a request of herself.)
This week, notice when you give or receive a compliment. If you don't translate the compliment to observation, feelings, needs, and requests, in the moment, write it down so you can follow up on it later.