How to Respond to a Professional Compliment

How to Respond to a Professional Compliment

26 November, 2015

In this article, I give some tips on how to effectively respond to positive feedback. This can include everything from passing compliments on your work, to a positive performance review. While positive feedback is obviously much more welcome than negative feedback, accepting professional praise can sometimes be tricky.
Do not undermine the compliment
When receiving a compliment, people often dilute, deflect, or downright reject it to avoid appearing conceited. This is usually done out of years of habit rather than consciously. You may think this makes you seem humble, but it actually comes across as insincere, or as insulting to the compliment giver. This type of reaction diminishes how others see you, and makes the compliment-giver uncomfortable (and thus less likely to compliment you in the future).
If you are like most people and this is something you do at least occasionally, you need to consciously change how you take compliments. Don’t downplay the compliment (“it was no big deal”) or deny it (“thanks, but what I did wasn’t that important”). Rather, respond with…
…a simple “Thank you”
More often than not, this is the only phrase you need to utter when responding to a compliment. This shows that you acknowledge the compliment, but still comes across as humble. “Thank you, I appreciate it” is simple, powerful, and effective.
Don’t forget non-verbal communication
Only 7% of communication is verbal, with tone of voice comprising 38% and body language coming in at a whopping 55%! It is therefore essential to send the right non-verbal message too. Maintain an open posture to appear welcoming, interested and grateful. Maintain eye contact and stand square to the compliment giver. And make sure that you speak clearly and with no hint of disinterest or sarcasm.
Avoid a compliment arms race
Much like a real arms race, a compliment arms race gets out of hand quickly. Resist the temptation to one-up the compliment giver with an even bigger compliment of your own. The best course of action is usually to simply accept the compliment with grace. Responding to a genuine compliment with one of your own never has the same effect as if you had given that same compliment spontaneously. At worst, it could come across as an insincere knee-jerk reaction to their compliment, rather than a genuine expression of your appreciation.
Some nuance is required here, however. If the compliment giver was a member of the same team, it might be advisable to acknowledge their contribution to the success as well. The important thing is to avoid using a compliment of your own to deflect one that you received.
What about a particularly enthusiastic compliment?
Believe it or not, the same rules apply. If you receive a particularly congratulatory compliment, or a string of compliments from the same manager, simply respond by acknowledging the praise and expressing your gratitude. If the compliment was genuine, your manager probably isn’t looking for a particular response. Simply acknowledge the compliment however you feel comfortable, and move on.
Save up for a rainy day
When you get a compliment in writing, don’t delete it – file it! When it comes time for your annual review, you will find yourself with a useful collection of positive feedback that you can refer to. For the same reason, never discourage complimentary emails! They could provide a useful paper trail later on.
Please be advised that the information in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice on any subject matter. As with all legal issues, we recommend you consult your lawyer. Accordingly, ZSA Legal Recruitment Limited will bear no liability to the reader, in any form. There are no representations or warranties made as to the accuracy or substantive adequacy of any information provided in this article.

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