Hope for your financial life and beyond

Why You Should Never Discount Success When Others Praise You

Have you ever received praise from someone because of a great personal success and then downplayed why that success came? In other words, do you discount or make excuses for personal achievements when people applaud you? I find myself continually tempted to do this even though I know it’s damaging.

woman receiving an award Last month I had my most successful day and month ever on this blog…more page views and revenue than I realistically thought possible considering what I’m doing. When my wife complimented me on a job well done I assumed my best Floyd Mayweather stance and went into defensive mode.

“Well, if it hadn’t been for this and this and this then…”

“It really wasn’t anything I did, it was because…”

“It was just one month…I don’t think it will carry over.”

I sucked her praise right out of the air.

I didn’t accept it.

I didn’t acknowledge it.

Instead I downplayed it and swatted away her alley-oop praise pass.

Why Do We Act This Way?

You’d think we would relish the chance to be recognized for worthy achievements. I love awards and a pat on the back as much as the next guy. But why do we become a downer in the moments immediately after receiving praise for a success?

Perhaps it’s because…

Of pride…we don’t want to be seen as boastful or arrogant.

We’re embarrassed…the spotlight of praise reveals our inability to handle attention.

Of doubt and fear…we are hesitant and unsure the success can continue.

We’re on a team…others contributed to the success so it seems unfair we are the sole focus.

We secretly long for more…by denying praise we invite the giver to double-down and praise us again.

Of luck…we view the success as accidental, not really based in our own hard work.

See yourself anywhere there? If so, you are causing damage to yourself by continually downplaying your success.

What Damage Comes by Discounting Success?

First, you will lose momentum. When I completed my first ever 5K run, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. The effort I’d put in to get in shape had really paid off in a quality time. Recognizing my effort and accomplishment created such enthusiasm that I knew I’d have to attempt some more difficult runs. Within a year I had completed my first half and full marathons.

Secondly, you diminish your personal worth and authority. By not accepting the praise you unknowingly say to others:

“I’m not important enough.”

“I don’t have the skill.”

“My value is minimal.”

Why would anyone want to be around, connect with or assign future projects to someone who viewed himself or herself this way? People desire to engage with winners, not those with low self-esteem.

Finally, by deflecting the praise you undermine the legitimacy of the work. It’s as though you are saying, “The work I put in and the work itself isn’t really that important.” And if you see it that way, then so will others.

What to Do Instead of Shot-Blocking Success and Praise

So instead of backing away from the praise when it comes because of a success do this…

Simply accept it by saying, “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”

Because deep down you really do appreciate it.

And you did work hard.

And you know the long hours it took to succeed.

So be grateful the effort is being recognized.

Then, once you have been grateful and received the praise with a “Thank you,” it’s OK to shine the light onto the other members of the team. Recognizing others will help keep things in perspective and keep you humble. And they deserve it too.

So be proud of your accomplishments and don’t shy away from people’s praise. You’ve earned it.

Questions: Do you have a difficult time accepting praise? Do you downplay your accomplishments by saying it resulted from luck or some other means? How else can discounting success and praise be hurtful? When does the “pride in your accomplishments” become a negative thing?

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com

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  1. I have had some issues in accepting praise and I agree that when we “refuse” a compliment we are downplaying our worth as well as the accomplishment itself. But beyond that, in a sense we are rejecting the person who gave us the praise, as though their viewpoint is incorrect and they should not have said what they did. We need to embrace and acknowledge the positivity that comes our way in this world and accept it with the spirit it was given.

  2. I only have problems with certain types of compliments, not all of them. If I do something that is above the normal or what is expected then I’m gracious in accepting the compliment. But in the scenario when someone tells me “hey thanks for doing blah” and blah is my job that I do all the time anyways, then I will downplay it with a response like, “just doing my job.”

    I feel weird accepting a compliment for something I’m being paid for and expected to do. It just seems redundant because I am being “thanked” by being paid to do blah activity anyways, I don’t need the extra praise for just doing what is expected of me.

    I also personally have a problem giving praise to people at work. I will thank them for occasional stuff sure, and I make a point to notice when they go above and beyond expectations. But I don’t make it a point to thank and praise them for doing their everyday work, that’s just something I have a hard time doing. I want to help promote a happy work environment, but at the same time I don’t really feel like handing out participation awards for people showing up at the office.

    So for me it just depends on what the compliment or praise is actually for.

    • Thanks for the comment Zee…I can see where you are coming from.

      It does seem redundant to give out praise for ordinary things. But leaders can’t give it out enough, imo. People need to know we appreciate even the little things. That extra word of encouragement goes a long way and makes the team appreciate you.

  3. One writer I read explicitly doesn’t let praise get a reaction out of him. He claims that it’s so he doesn’t get wrapped around the axle about what other people think, good or bad. But I think it’s a bit sad. He helps a lot of people, and lets the praise bounce off him to crash to the ground.

    • I agree with not letting praise be the driving force in your life. We should work for ourselves, not for the praise of men. But to not acknowledge it when it comes I think is wrong. It’s respectful to let people know you appreciate their kind words.

  4. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    I always do that I don’t know why. Maybe because I don’t want to be an arrogant or maybe I find it like a simple thing, which must not be noticed. The next time I do get some compliments, I would just accept it wholeheartedly and just say “Thank you so much. I know you can also do do that.”

  5. There were times where I have definitely discounted praise and compliments. When I initially started as a financial advisor I had many naysayers, so I quickly got over it because I knew how hard I worked to achieve success and how hard it was for some of those naysayers to acknowledge it. And congratulations on having one of your most successful months, Brian! Well deserved and here’s to more great months! Have a great weekend and Happy Mother’s Day to Kim!

    • “…knew how hard I worked…” That’s the key. We need to remember all our effort, not forget all we’ve been through.

  6. Wow this was such a good read. I do this way too much. I feel like it’s more acceptable to openly diss yourself than embrace a compliment. This clearly needs to change, like you said.

    • “…openly diss yourself than embrace a compliment.” I think your right. On one hand that could be seen as being humble. However, it could be seen as being self-serving…like you are fishing for another compliment. Even still, it could also be an indication of poor self-esteem.

  7. I do the exact same thing, mainly because I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging. That’s really weird when you think about it though- when someone gives you a compliment, that doesn’t mean you’re bragging. Compliments just make me feel awkward for some reason!

    • I think sometimes compliments catch us off guard…we weren’t anticipating them so we don’t respond in the right way.

  8. Great post Brian. I think people often react this way. I know I do. I think it’s just the direct nature of the praise and we’re not quite sure how to handle it. I do agree we should embrace it, welcome it, it’s a good thing and we should be proud of or work.

    • “…the direct nature of the praise and we’re not quite sure how to handle it.” Agreed…we get way too worked up about our reaction to it and what other people will think of our reaction to it.

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