If you deserve a compliment, just say, 'Thanks'


January 08, 1995|By DEBORAH JACOBS | DEBORAH JACOBS,Chronicle Features

Martha Bonneville's boss at CIBA Vision Corporation recently complimented her on a strategy that helped the company during a reorganization. "Thank you, but kudos go to the team," replied Ms. Bonneville, an area marketing manager in Atlanta. Although she knew the idea had been her own, she felt more comfortable sharing credit with other people in her work group than accepting the praise herself.

It might not have been a good move for someone who wants to get ahead in business. Yet was there really any harm in looking like a team player?

Maybe not, but rejecting a compliment is a disservice to the person offering it as well as the intended recipient, say psychologists and career counselors. Comments like, "I'm just doing my job," devalue your work. The implication is that you think the person giving the praise has poor judgment.

People who deflect praise may damage their images, says Victoria Tashjian, president of Tashjian & Co., a Wilmington, Del., consulting firm. People think twice about whether these individuals have really done a good job on the tasks at hand and will be less inclined to commend them in the future.

What makes it so hard for people to accept a compliment gracefully? Many of us grew up with the adage "It's better to give than to receive," or learned from an early age not to grandstand. Perfectionists, who set high standards for their own performance, have trouble believing an accolade is genuine. And fiercely independent people may feel patronized or hesitant to accept anything that will put them in the speaker's debt.

The best thing is to just say "Thank you," says Albert J. Bernstein, a Vancouver, Wash., psychotherapist and author of the book "Sacred Bull: The Inner Obstacles That Hold You Back at Work and How To Overcome Them" (John Wiley & Sons, 1994). But people become anxious with a pause in the conversation and feel compelled to say more. They go overboard, with long-winded stories about how they accomplished a task or how hard they worked on a project. Meanwhile, the busy superior who has just delivered the commendation may be eager to move on to other business.

Some bosses intentionally play the office grapevine, planting positive feedback they're not comfortable delivering directly. These managers tend to praise people to third parties and hope the message will filter back to the deserving recipient. One antidote to the reticent boss is to blow your own horn and take the boss's silence as assent.

Deborah Jacobs, a business writer specializing in legal topics regularly contributes to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Newsweek. Write to her c/o Chronicle Features, 870 Market St., Suite 1011, San Francisco, Calif. 94102. Please include your name, address and telephone number.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.