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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Gratitude Over Deflection

I was raised to believe that arrogance is one of the least desirable traits a person could have. That belief was so strongly reinforced that I think it created a fear of ever being labeled as someone who thought too highly of themselves.

But somewhere in the midst of trying to avoid arrogance, I also put up a shield against compliments. Perhaps I was afraid that accepting praise signaled that I agreed, potentially reflecting a sense of hubris.

So instead, I deflected, dismissing any compliment as untrue or exaggerated. Sometimes, I still do, which is a mistake.

WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike had a good way of putting it when she spoke with Dr. Michael Gervais on his Finding Mastery podcast this week:

"I think there's this weird balance in my mind of being or having too much humility. I think in a lot of ways, having too much humility oftentimes can almost appear as though it's another form of narcissism because you're deflecting so much."

When someone gives you a compliment, it's an act of kindness. It's like giving someone a gift.

I've come to realize that the appropriate response is one of gratitude. If someone gave you a gift, you wouldn't hand it back to them, or tell them they are more deserving of it. That wouldn't make the giver feel good.

But that's what we do when we deflect.

Now, I want to be clear about something. If someone gives you a compliment that you feel you should share, I think it's okay to say so. For example, coaches are often congratulated when their athletes run well. That's always felt a little misdirected to me, since I'd argue an athlete's performance has a lot more to do with the athlete than the coach, but the coach does certainly play a part.*

For the most part, however, responding to a compliment with gratitude shows appreciation to the giver for giving it. It reinforces to them that their friendship is valued. After all, when we give compliments ourselves, I think that's the sort of response that feels good to receive.

*As I've written before, these blogs have been a space to develop a better awareness for my own behavior rather than be a critique of others. So again, while I use the second person "you", it's only because this is sort of like a diary entry. I'm trying to remind myself of the things I need to get better at.

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