A reader writes:
I recently (less than a year ago) began a new job, working as an in-house graphic designer for a wonderful company, and everything so far has been going really well. A bit too well, considering the problem I am asking you about.
I am horrible at receiving compliments. I stammer, I blush, I deprecate my own work, anything you can think of to avoid actually accepting the compliment of me or my work. Now, I realize this seems like I have awful self-esteem, but I don’t. I know my work is awesome. I am a great designer and my work so far has reflected that. But the second someone mentions that to me, it is back to the blushing. I know I should just say “thank you” and move on, I just never seem to be able to manage it.
But that isn’t the real problem. See, I know what I should be doing is someone compliments me in person; see above re: “thank you,” even if I am rarely able to accomplish it. What I don’t know is what to do when someone compliments me via email. Do I acknowledge the compliments? Do I say thank-you? Do I need to compliment them in return? (This is difficult as often I am getting compliments from people on other teams whose work I know very little about.) I am especially stymied when the compliment comes at the end of an email conversation, when I have nothing left to say to them that isn’t about the compliment.
I realize I am probably over-thinking this, but I want to know how to to handle email compliments graciously.
I suspect your problem is less that you don’t know what to say, and more that you don’t really believe it’s that simple.
In email or in person, the answer is the same: You just say “thank you,” and leave it at that.
You don’t need to compliment the person in return, although you can if it’s sincere (but don’t try to come up with something just for the sake of coming up with something).
Here’s an example of how this might go down in an email:
Them: I’m about to send this file to the printer. By the way, great job on the cover — I love your final version.
That’s it. You can mix it up with “thanks so much,” “that’s great to hear,” etc. — but basically, “thanks” or some version of it.
And it might help you to think about how other people react when you compliment their work — if you think back on it, they probably just say “thanks,” the conversation moves on or ends, and you don’t feel at all weird about it. It’s normal!
But most importantly, stop with the self-deprecating! People are complimenting you because they sincerely mean it, and you will make them uncomfortable if you appear to feel weird about what they said. In fact, if nothing else works, think of a simple “thanks” as the only polite response, and think of that whole self-deprecatory “I’m not that great” routine as being kind of rude to them. After all, they are offering you something kind, and you shouldn’t throw it back at them unaccepted.