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How To Accept A Compliment

Some time ago, a teacher gave me a valuable lesson. He taught me how to accept a compliment. I forget the lesson now and again. When I do, a moment spent reflecting on those few minutes in the classroom brings me back to the correct way to respond.

I learned the lesson in a sixth grade classroom. I was twenty-six years old when this happened.

It is probably important to clarify that I completed the sixth grade before I was twenty-six.  Getting out of the sixth grade before my mid-twenties was a goal my parents set for me. I can proudly say I met that goal. Don’t be afraid to help your kids aim high. Don’t stop believin’.

Now, back to our story.

My Job Description

English: Social Studies classroom at Port Char...

Ideally, attendance was better than this (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was doing drug education in the public schools. This drug education gig was pretty sweet. I bounced around between different elementary schools daily. I had an hour per week in each sixth grade class.

Most teachers stayed in the room, watching over things and grading papers. A few adventurous educators would leave their classes in my hands. However they handled my time in their classrooms didn’t matter to me. The classes that were well-behaved usually stayed that way. The ones that were not would not reach meltdown stage until I was close to being finished with my hour.

I gained a healthy respect for teachers. Teaching is hard. What I did was easy. I had pre-written lesson plans. There were no hassles with parents contesting grades because I didn’t give any. I just showed up, did the lesson of the week and left. I also met some great kids, and some amazingly dedicated educators.

Rob was one of those amazing teachers. His class was always focused. The students, faculty and parents loved the guy. He gave the kids his best effort and concern, they gave back results.

Where some teachers were in their own world while I was in their rooms, he would interrupt to add to what I was saying.  When Rob would relate a classroom incident from a few weeks earlier to a lesson I was presenting, it would make a world of difference. I could see the kids react and knew what he said made a difference.

I was working in Rob’s room one fall morning. The class was going well, the kids were getting it. Then it became my turn to learn.

I Receive A Complimentary Lesson, Complimentary.

Try as I might, I don’t remember the compliment the student gave me. He raised his hand, I called on him and he said something in the neighborhood of “I like the way you…”.

Being humble seemed the best approach to handling compliments, or so I thought. I smiled, shrugged, and gave a sort of “aw shucks, it ain’t nothing, it’s part of the job” answer.

From the back of the room, I heard a roar of STOP! I looked back at the teacher, then around the room to see who I hadn’t noticed misbehaving. The class looked back at Rob, then turned and faced the front when it was clear to all of us that the one who’d screwed up was the guy standing in front of them. I had no idea what I’d done.

He asked what I’d just said. I looked at my lesson plan and started to paraphrase something about peer pressure or whatever I was speaking about. “No. He said he liked how you… And you said?”

I repeated my attempt to humbly deflect the student’s kind words. Rob shook his head.

“That is not the way to accept a compliment. He went out of his way to say something nice to you. You responded by denying it. That’s a little insulting, don’t you think?” I admitted that it might be. He asked the class “what do you say when someone gives you a compliment?”

They all responded “thank you”.

It seems that he’d been seeing me come into his school for two years and reacting the way I did to compliments from students and staff. It also seemed that it’d been decided that I was not going to do that anymore.

He told me that he wanted me to stand there in front of the class while the students took turns complimenting me. The rule was that I could not say anything but thank you. At that point the class pulled out papers, with compliments they’d written about me. I’d been set up.

Because I’d been told to, I stood there and dutifully said thank you as the sixth grade class took turns saying nice things about me. It was uncomfortable and it was effective.

What those children said was from their hearts and their observations of me. It was the truth. I was all of those things. There was nothing wrong with my accepting what they were saying. Looking back on it, I realize that I was good at accepting criticism that others directed at me. I don’t know why I (and so many others) accepted criticism as the truth, but felt a compliment was something I should deny.

I’ve kept the lesson of that day. When I hear nice things about myself, it seems natural to express appreciation instead of denial. Sometimes I slip. I’ll catch myself issuing an “aw shucks”. It hasn’t happened again in front of a room full of kids and a teacher who saw a way to help me and his students. I’m glad it happened that one time.

Do yourself a favor today. Smile and say thank you.

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35 Comments on “How To Accept A Compliment”

  1. I’m so glad you learned to accept a compliment. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do!

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    What a fantastic teacher and a wonderful lesson to teach you and the students! Good for Rob. Everyone learned a valuable lesson that day. And now… I love your blog, Oma. You are so real.

  3. Oma, this is a lesson we all need to remember and pass along. I’m filing this away because as much as we try and teach to say please and thank you, we overlook how important it is to accept praise gracefully.

    • omawarisan says:

      Grace is key in so many places. The thank you reply allows for that humble grace. It doesn’t require you to go on and on and I think it allows the person giving the compliment their share of grace as well.

  4. There is a part of me that cringes at one adult correcting another in this manner. But the intent was sure well meaning, and the “lesson” was a good one. ‘Thank you’ such powerful words in so many situations.

    • omawarisan says:

      I can understand you feeling that way. Getting corrected in front of a room full of folks isn’t how things ought be done. I work for someone who believes in ripping people in front of others. Not cool.

      In this case, it was done with humor and the right spirit.

  5. Michelle Gillies says:

    This is one of those lessons I have always had a hard time with. I’m getting better at it though.
    It sounds like those kids were pretty lucky to have both you and Rob in their classroom.

  6. We Found Him Captain! says:

    THANK YOU! That was a fine story. It’s good to read that there some teachers who are dedicated and outstanding at their job.

  7. Todd Pack says:

    I still can’t accept a compliment. My first impulse is to be self-deprecating, but that just insults the person who gave the compliment. So, I usually just say, “Thank you,” sincerely, but then I think it comes across as glib. Luckily, people seldom say nice things about me to my face (or behind my back), but it isn’t much of a problem.

  8. Lea Ault says:

    I tend to deny compliments also – but there’s a cultural basis for this. If a Japanese person compliments you, the rule is to deny it: “No no no, I’m a very poor skiier/cook/user of chopsticks. Very poor!” If you say “Thank you!” to a Japanese, it’s taken as boasting: “Yes! I agree! I am an awesome eater of bizarre raw sea life! And I can kneel for hours!”

    Even though I’m fourth generation Japanese-Canadian, there are a few cultural remnants that have stuck to me, like rice on the bottom of your foot: punctuality, bringing gifts, asking people three times if they’d like tea (because they say no twice and then yes the last time), and denying compliments. So now I accept compliments from Westerners (although not the British because they’re essentially Japanese, culturally) but not from Asians. Then it’s full-on self-effacement to show proper humility.

  9. lbwoodgate says:

    “At that point the class pulled out papers, with compliments they’d written about me. I’d been set up.”

    So were you able to hold back the tears until after you left the classroom?

  10. Linda Sand says:

    Now if we could learn to say, “You’re welcome” instead of “No problem.”

  11. Debbie says:

    As usual, Oma, you’re spot on! I think we’re taught not to be able to accept compliments — something about saying a sincere “Thank You” almost seems like vanity. However, you’ve pointed out the reason WHY we need to re-train ourselves to accept compliments — the other person went out of his way to say something nice. Your denying it insults him. And no one needs to be treated unkindly, if they’re being kind to you!

  12. mikegee64 says:

    Good story, great lesson, and very well told… But I guess I’m going to have to be the one who has to point out the obvious.

    Rob was trying to get in your pants.

  13. I like the way you wrote this.

  14. Jill says:

    This just made me laugh so hard and vicariously flush with embarrassment. Learning to take a compliment is important but that’s such a rough way to learn it.

  15. sarahnsh says:

    I gotta say that I am guilty with not accepting compliments. I am going to have to remember to say thank you the next time someone compliment me I tend to push it to the side too. A great lesson to learn for sure!


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