The Impostor Syndrome, Part 2: How to Accept a Compliment

Imposter Syndrome background

Last Sunday, I arrived at a meeting of the Ohio Chapter of the National Speakers Association, all excited to learn business-building techniques from Mark LeBlanc. Mark is a rock star in the speaking world. He’s a past NSA president, and has a remarkable reputation for his expertise in helping people build small businesses. I’ve never met him, but we’re Facebook friends, and I was jazzed to finally meet him.

You_Rock__3_by_EmmryanneWhen I arrived at the meeting, I ran over to him, thrust out my hand and said “Hi Mark! My name is Maureen Zappala. We’re Facebook friends!”

His face lit up, he took my hand and said “Oh yes! Maureen! I’ve seen your posts on the NSA page.!” It was clear he recognized me (I often hear how much I really look like my Facebook picture!) Then he paused, looked at me with the kindest eyes and said slowly, “You are SO smart.”

I immediately and vehemently replied, “Oh no, no! I’m not. Not even close!”

It was awkward.

As soon as I said it, I thought “Why couldn’t I just say “thanks?” Why did I discount and dismiss what he said?

It took me back. I know I post a lot on Facebook, and I have a lot of opinions. But to be called smart by this rock star seemed almost absurd.  He’s way more successful, way more active, and way more profitable than I am as a speaker. He’s got decades of experience compared to me. He’s brilliant. Certainly, I’m not as smart as he is.

I had to wrestle in my mind for a few minutes. I thought, “I’m an engineer. Practically a rocket scientist. I’m well read. I’m talented. I’m logical and clear-thinking. I’ve got opinions and I can usually express them. I know things that help people, so I offer advice and suggestions. I’m witty and insightful in my posts. Why WOULDN’T he think I was smart????

In the fantastic book “Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, author Valerie Young describes the Impostor Syndrome. something I wrote about it in my last post. It’s the tendency for successful people to disown their success. They instead will downplay it, dismiss it, or devalue it. One of the telltale signs is the inability to accept compliments. If you do this, it could be that it goes beyond polite modesty. It could be deliberate and damaging attack on your own personal triumphs. It’s destructive, and not only to yourself.

She writes in her book that dismissing a compliment could be insulting to the person who gives it. It’s as if you’re saying “Are you an idiot? How can you POSSIBLY think I’m that (smart, good, talented, competent…)? You obviously don’t have high standards if you think I’m that good.” It’s arrogant.

I struggle with accepting compliments. There are tons of reasons I could dismiss them, but every reason diminishes the person who complimented me. I had to rethink it, and remember that people give compliments out of a genuine and kind heart, and for me to dismiss them is beyond crummy.

If you struggle with accepting complements, the solution is super simple. Just respond with “Thank you.” That’s it. Nothing else. No extra comments, commentary or compulsory explanations. Just receive the compliment with a genuine thank you.

When you get comfortable with “Thank you” you can start adding other phrases like “You are so kind.” Or “I receive that.” Or “I’m so glad you noticed that.” Or “That means a lot to me.” I guarantee when you start saying those things in return, you will see the other person light up. Why? Because when you receive the compliment, you are letting them give a gift to you. For them, it really is better to give than receive. Don’t rob them of the joy of giving.

I need to connect with Mark LeBlanc and thank him for his compliment on my smartness. It bothers me that I may have been arrogant to him. Mark, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for my arrogance.  Forgive me. Thank you for your kind compliment. It really meant a lot to me.

There. That wasn’t so bad. It was pretty easy, actually.

Try it. Start with “Thank you.” Two words. You can do it.


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