Lean in and own it

Some of us (especially women) appear to have issues with receiving a compliment. Sure, we can work really hard, but when the rewards come we have a hard time saying “yep, I rock.”

When we reply with “Oh, it was nothing” (or similar), accompanied with a kind of poo-poohing shake of the head, we are not only downgrading our own achievement, but we’re telling the person complimenting you that they’re making a big deal out of nothing special. We’re actually saying they’re wrong.

It’s not enough to work hard

“I’m awesome” just doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue for women.

Well, here’s a newsflash:

In 2010 the Denver Post carried a story on a local woman who was awarded a very large grant, to fund her scientific research into bees. It was a good sized story and the award is significant in fact, so significant it’s commonly referred to as a ‘Genius Grant’. Her response was, “I don’t think I’m the genius in my family… I have two brothers who are geniuses.” She also said when she found out she’d been awarded the grant, she thought “why me?”

Think about that for a minute.

This is a brilliant woman with a PhD, a stack of research and financial support, and in her apparent attempt to be modest, she instead managed to plant the seed that perhaps there were other candidates more deserving of the award.

This kind of response could stop her being the role model girls and women so desperately need. Instead of inviting this brilliant, high achiever to speak at a school assembly, local school principals could read this article and think oh, isn’t that sweet and turn the page. In fact, the lack of comments on this achievement might indicate that is exactly what happened.

This woman is well respected, a true genius. She should be celebrated for her fantastic achievement, and the newspaper was right in making this a decent sized story. I’d love to meet her and find out more about her work. I’m sure lots of people would.

GHC-ghc-speaker300x240The story has haunted me now since its publication. I often see women downplaying their achievements. Is it modesty or fear? Either way, it’s not a good way to move forward.

Time to own your badass

I find when I compliment a woman on her lipstick/clothing, she will receive it far better (obviously thrilled) than a compliment on her work (oftentimes awkward). We need to get to the point where the work compliment makes you feel as good as the lipstick one.

So here are some tips on how to receive a compliment with an appropriate response, the very next time you’re given one.

Be flattered and surprised: It’s fine to say “Oh thank you. I was so surprised and it was so wonderful to have it come my way!”

Credit the work: Years of not owning your recognition can be hard to move on from. So, if you’re in need of baby steps, instead of owning the compliment personally, direct it to the work you did. Credit your work (not only the others who supported and worked with you) – the message is still personal to you, because you did the work. And if it was a team effort, you should also be thanking them anyway. “Thank you, it (my work) means so much to me.” Simple. Straight to the point. If it was a team, then add “and Steve, Sally and Sasquatch did some fantastic …

You can even be clever if there’s an opportunity for further conversation to elaborate on the work you’ve done so far, move into your elevator pitch, or make an appointment for coffee with those you really want to talk with more on a business level.

Thank the complimenter: Validate the compliment. It’s incredibly important to recognise the person giving you a compliment. Saying nice things about someone takes some effort. It’s like a gift. If you don’t receive it well, you are doing them a disservice.


Compliment other people – on anything, but make sure it’s sincere. Start with compliments on things that you’re comfortable with… and move on to work. You can compliment strangers, or people you’ve just met. Watch how they receive the compliment and discover how good it makes you feel to compliment other people. We don’t do it enough. I guess the final consideration is that perhaps if we complimented others more often instead of looking for issues, we’d also be better recipients of compliments as well.




  • This is something I struggle with so much! Thank you for helping me with words I can use to avoid feeling awkward after I receive a compliment.

  • So true. We are insane !!! Love this post. Thanks lady and by the way this is my compliment to you: beautiful writing and you are An amazing woman

  • I struggle with this and see it OFTEN in women. I think it’s a huge issue with professional women and cudos to you for addressing it.

    Great job, Jo!

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