How to Respond to Work-Related Praise

How to Take a Compliment Gracefully | CorporetteHow do you respond when someone praises your work — without sounding like an entitled braggart (and without undermining yourself)? Reader T has a great question about compliments at work.

My question for you is, how do you respond to a co-worker (sometimes a supervisor) telling you they’ve heard great comments/feedback about your work? I’m confused as to whether this is a compliment you simply say thank you to, or is there more we should add? (i.e. I appreciate the opportunity to learn) It’s not a direct compliment, yet somehow is one. I often feel the need to justify the passed-along compliment with an explanation, yet sometimes I inadvertently undermine my own efforts and achievements.

First, that absolutely is praise, so congrats to Reader T.  I’m curious to hear what the readers say about whether you can undermine yourself with your response to praise. For my own $.02 — particularly as someone with an overactive imposter syndrome — I’ve definitely been tempted to respond with things like, “It was a team effort!” or “___ really helped by supervising me,” or “I was really lucky to find the answer so quickly!”

Maybe it’s a facet of age or experience (or just writing and reading about this stuff), but I’m pretty sure that my more recent response to any work-related praise has been (and will be) more along the following lines: Thanks. I’m glad you’re hearing good things. It was a fun project and I’m happy to get started on a new one. All said with a smile but not necessarily exclamation points. I feel like these responses don’t undermine your work by attributing luck or someone else.  Maybe it’s just me, but none of these responses really smack of WHY YES I AM A GENIUS HOW NICE OF YOU TO NOTICE.

I’m curious, readers — do you inadvertently undermine your own efforts and achievements, either by being overly humble or letting your imposter complex take over?  Do you notice other people doing it?

Pictured: Thank You, originally uploaded to Flickr by HelloJenuine (also available for sale at Etsy).

Comments

  1. At my old job, I would have said “Praise? What’s that?” My accomplishments were constantly undermined by my boss, and he would take credit for everything I did.

    At my new job, I usually respond with a “Thanks!” along with giving anyone who helped me credit, because they deserve it. It doesn’t make me less “strong” of a woman to acknowledge that I was helped along the way.

  2. I’m very fortunate in that my current boss is quick to praise if I’m doing a particularly good job, and also to pass on praise he’s heard from others (I do the same and pass on praise other people tell me about him). It’s it’s from him, a quick thank you will suffice. If he tells me something someone else has said, I usually say something like, “That’s really nice to hear!” and follow up with “Thanks so much for passing that along.”

  3. Nonny says:

    I just say something like, “Thank you, it ‘s always so nice to receive positive comments like that.” Depending on the circumstance I may say something more specific (e.g. if it was a very challenging file, I might say, “Yes, there were definitely challenges with that one but I’m so glad it turned out so well.”), but often the generic reply will suffice.

    I think it’s important to own the compliments – you’ve earned them, so acknowledge them with grace.

  4. Senior Attorney says:

    Less is more. Say “thank you” in a way that conveys you are gratified but not surprised, and move on.

  5. What size pants do you buy if size 4 regular is the right length but too roomy, and size 4 Petite fits well but is too short?

  6. Christina says:

    I respond with a simple “thank you” or “I’m glad to hear that” and give credit to anyone else who was involved.

  7. k-padi says:

    “Thank you.” I don’t see any need to be more specific–unless to distribute credit where credit is due (as in, one person who really did most of the work). Then, it’s “Thank you, Paralegal’s help and expertise were crucial.” If the person is a support person (like a paralegal or intern), immediately pass the praise on to HR and cc the person you are praising. Yes, I am the person who fills up HR’s inbox with “so-and-so did something really great!” emails.

    I wouldn’t qualify it with any statement about challenges or teamwork or that the project was fun or that you are glad to be the subject of office gossip (even if it’s good).

    One other thing, praise people if they do a good job and pass on praise. One client really loves working with one of our paralegals. They tell me how wonderful she is all the time. Because of how we are set up, the paralegal doesn’t have much face time with the client. So I relay all the praise to her and HR so she knows she’s valued. It’s paid off for the client too–this paralegal should probably re-allocate to another but is holding on to this client because she feels so valued.

    With praise: really don’t be shy. If a paralegal or other support staff person is going above and beyond (staying late, pushing projects around to meet your schedule, has super-expertise in an area, takes on the boring, complex task no one else wants to do), be over the top. The paralegals know they are my heros, one has naming rights to my first child, saved my day/week/month, they are awesome, incredible, and wonderful.

    • Ellen says:

      I agree with KPadi. While the manageing partner never praise’s my work output PER SE, he alway’s is very complementeary of my billeing OUTPUT, which to me is the same thing, b/c if I did NOT churn out the breif’s and do the work and go to court and settel case’s, I would not be abel to BILL all of my CLEINT’s for it! So to me it is ultamately the SAME thing! YAY!!!!

      Myrna is bringing a guy over to me after work today –Sam — who she works with. Sam is a SVP, 30 year’s old and want’s children right away. She says he is NICE, but I will NOT do anything sexueal with him without a ring, at least an engageament ring, so if he is looking for a test drive, its NO. First the ring I told MYRNA. NO RING, no Test. FOOEY on men like Alan who all he did was test drive. No more of that. NO WAY. Am I right or what? FOOEY!

  8. You should say “thank you, I appreciate the feedback” and keep going. Too many women deflect their praise, downplay it or minimize their role in the success, which is the wrong thing to do.

  9. This happened to me just today. Partner passed on praise about me from Managing Partner. I just said, “Thanks, that’s so nice of you to pass that along.” And I meant it, since Managing Partner NEVER praises anyone to their face.

  10. Business, Not Law says:

    I respond like many of the posters above. However, I will fully admit to struggling with “imposter” issues and know that many times I am overly humble (possibly to my detriment). Current example: I am being receiving an award at a national meeting next week and when I found out (and needed to tell my boss that I needed to take the time out of the office to go receive it) I was actually nervous/embarrassed as if somehow the national recognition was less valid b/c it was coming to me. YIKES

  11. Jocelyn says:

    ummm…say thank you? Not even sure why this is a discussion.

    • Because sometimes we (including I) need a reminder that we can own up to our accomplishments. Whenever my boss praises me, I always try to explain it away i.e. it was nothing, X helped and while that all may be true, I did good work and I should be able to accept praise for it instead of undermining myself.

      I often feel embarrassed when I’m being praised so I need this reminder to own it!

      • Senior Attorney says:

        I think being able to say “thank you” and move on is an important skill and the sooner it’s learned, the better. It also applies to any kind of compliments, including compliments about one’s appearance.

        JSTYAMO.

        • Business, Not Law says:

          Agreed. But that doesn’t mean that there is not some internal angst even while graciously accepting the compliment.

    • Liz in the City says:

      Because some of us may have worked in places where “praise” was a four-letter word and don’t know how to respond when people honestly mean it. That’s me. Spent 6 years where I went from getting frequent thank yous to absolute radio silence. Not that I need to be constantly praised, but after finishing big assignments, it’d be nice to be acknowledged with something other than more work.

  12. bananagram says:

    I’m going to turn this around and ask how I can toot my own horn without being obnoxious. I (an engineer) took on a detail of our project which had bee overlooked, but which ultimately cut our motor motion time by ~10%. I can’t figure out how to advertise this to my boss, who is pretty far removed from the mundane details of the project.

    • If you give your boss updates or reports on the project, could you work it in that way? “Investigated Widget A and did modifications X, Y, and Z resulting in a 10% decrease of motor motion.” Or if this is a detail that is included in other projects, perhaps ask if he’s come across it being overlooked frequently. That naturally could lead to you explaining your contribution, but come across as a Lesson Learned to apply on other projects as opposed to you patting yourself on the back.

    • AnonInfinity says:

      As a follow up — Is it obnoxious to just say something like, “Did you see I did that?!” I ask because, when typing a response to this question, I realized that I just say that. As an example, yesterday the partner who represents a co-defendant in a case of mine emailed a big group and thanked some other people and me. When I saw the partner at my firm yesterday, I said, “Did you see the shout out from X?! Boo-yah!” We do have a joke-y relationship. But deeper than that, my thought is that everything I do well has the potential to make my boss look better, so he probably wants to know about it.

      • Business, Not Law says:

        Honestly, I have a co-worker that does this sort of thing and I find it annoying. Not just because she does this with the boss, but b/c she does it with *everything* and *everyone* and it’s like she is constantly looking for the “gold star” recognition. I’m not saying that this is you and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I think there is a balance between self-promotion (which I already admitted is a weakness for me) and constantly looking for strokes.

        Our bosses already know who is high performing through the work that gets done–so certainly make sure the big things get “extra” noticed but IMHO every task doesn’t have to get trumpeted–things begin to lose their impact after a while.

        • AnonInfinity says:

          Good point. I don’t do it with everything, even though my last sentence seemed to indicate that.

          It’s something that I’ll say to him from time to time and then think, “Was that just obnoxious?” So, I appreciate your honesty on something I can’t really ask the people I work with.

      • Anonymous says:

        *cringe* people say boo ya? Also if he was on the email, no need to tell him too.

  13. I generally just say “thank you” with a smile. I just received a sizable increase (even though I wasn’t eligible for a regular increase since I’ve been with my company less than a year), and was honestly rather shocked; I’m 27 and this is the first time I’ve been given a non-routine increase. My boss went out of the way to tell me, as opposed to the template email, so my general response was extended to “Thank you, I appreciate that.”

  14. Burgher says:

    I have been hearing tons of praise through the grapevine lately (Yay, me!), and I just reply something generic like “that is great to hear” and “I really enjoy working with them”.

    I used to get embarrassed or try to downplay praise when I was younger and less experienced. Now I own it, because I know I am great at my job!

  15. randomjohn says:

    I manage seven inhouse lawyers, and I’d like to reiterate the sparse comments above about letting your boss know. It’s nice to get these compliments, but if it’s something specific, you might as well get a tangible benefit out of your good work. I’m not saying you have to put everything on the refrigerator, but if a senior executive (I’m inhouse) took the time to compliment you, at a minimum, you should be telling your boss. If you have a good relationship with the compliment-er, there is nothing wrong with politely asking him or her to let your own boss know. That feedback means a lot to managers, especially around review time.

    FWIW, I’m a dude.

  16. NationalAnthem says:

    I usually say something along the lines of “Thank you, I really enjoyed working on that project/am happy I was able to provide assistance/learned a lot about X.”

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