Editorial note: This article appeared in Linkedin on May 26th, 2016
Traditionally in Chinese culture, politeness and modesty are intertwined. For example, if one gives a compliment to another, such as, “Your painting looks beautiful,” the polite reply might be, “No, no, it’s a mess. I was playing with the brush.” Responding to a compliment with a self-discounting comment is seen as an appropriate gesture to avoid the perception of being arrogant. This gesture might not be taken well in the western world since it can be interpreted negatively.
I have a mom who breaks this cultural convention. She accepts compliments differently. For example, when her friends told her, “Your kids are smart,” she smiled and said, “We are blessed.” With her as a role model, I’ve learned to accept compliments with similar grace. To nod and say, “Thank you,” is my natural response. I have noticed that people feel more connected with me when their compliments are accepted in appreciation.
Then, one day, I realized that a simple “thank you” to a compliment might take more than nodding in the western world also. It can become an emotional intelligence challenge. When one gets a compliment, he might hear voice in his head: “Did I really do a good job?” “Am I good enough to deserve it?” “Is this compliment a lip service?” “Can he really know it’s good or not?” These questions can stop one from accepting compliments with ease; even with the appearance of self-confidence. These questions might emerge from self-doubt or not being able to read others accurately, issues that are all in the domain of emotional intelligence.
Self-doubt: We all have moments of losing our self-confidence. People that experience self-doubt may be ones who were criticized or bullied a lot in their youth. Without self-trust, we lose our ability to take pleasure in ourselves. The result is caution and giving others power.
A good exercise to work on building self-trust is to give yourself compliments to reinforce the belief that you do matter to others and your contributions are meaningful. Using a journal to record daily reflections will help deepen these affirmations.
Not being able to read others: This is about the capacity of one’s empathy accuracy. Empathy accuracy includes the ability to clearly read words, facial expressions and body language. When this capacity is highly developed, one can easily understand others and join them with ease.
A good practice to develop the capacity of empathy accuracy is to drop your judgment and assumptions, notice people around you, and sense what they are feeling and thinking through listening and observation. Again, journaling will enhance the impact of this practice.
The next time you say “Thank you” after receiving a compliment, notice how you feel about it and notice the emotions that are triggered. Through self-observation, You will raise your self-awareness when you explore and grow from the experience. After all, it’s very powerful to be able to accept a compliment with a simple “Thank you” and it’s a gift to the people who compliment you.