How to Accept Compliments and Praise as a Woman

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Year of Yes" by Shonda Rhimes. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have trouble accepting compliments? Are you uncomfortable with receiving praise?

Women are often taught to not accept praise because we’re meant to make excuses for our achievements in American society. But in Shonda Rhimes’s book Year of Yes, she wants to subvert this.

Learn how to happily accept compliments as a woman below.

Accept Praise and Compliments

During an award ceremony for women leaders in entertainment, Rhimes realized how uncomfortable she was receiving praise. She further realized that this reaction is common for women: Even powerful women like herself can’t easily accept compliments and praise because women are taught to make excuses for their gifts and successes in American society instead of gladly taking credit for them.

(Shortform note: The cause of women’s difficulty in accepting praise for their accomplishments is explained by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In as being an issue of women’s likeability. When women accept praise, they are acknowledging their success, and studies show that the more successful a woman seems to be, the less people like her. Successful women are seen as aggressive and unfeminine. Because being liked is a key factor in leadership, successful women learn to downplay their accomplishments to be more liked by the people around them.)

Rhimes decided to practice accepting praise without apologizing or explaining her accomplishments and gifts away. She learned that accepting compliments is a gift she can give herself and the person giving the compliment—it felt great to absorb other people’s positive feedback, and it made her feel more connected to others.

(Shortform note: Researchers have shown that giving and receiving compliments does in fact make most of us feel more uplifted and connected to others, as it did for Rhimes. They found that, in general, we enjoy receiving compliments from strangers and we feel good when we give them to people as well. But many of us refrain from complimenting others because we misjudge how they will feel if we do, and we underestimate the positive impact that our words of appreciation can have. Additionally, many of us feel uncertain about our ability to compliment someone well. In reality, research shows that if you step outside of your comfort zone to compliment someone, it will likely have a more positive impact than you might imagine, both for them and for yourself.)  

Key Takeaways

Practice accepting praise as Rhimes did—when someone acknowledges your accomplishments or gifts, just smile, thank them, and then say nothing else. With practice, accepting people’s praise will become easier. Rhimes initially found it awkward, but eventually it became her natural response. Accepting compliments is an act of kindness for you and others. When you don’t accept them, even if you do so nicely, you’re telling the other person that they’re wrong and shouldn’t have wasted their time.

Not All Compliments Are Acceptable

Rhimes’s recommendation to accept compliments (for the positivity it can bring for both you and the other person) applies well when praise is related to your accomplishments. But compliments, especially ones directed at women, are often about people’s bodies and appearances and can be unwelcomed, inappropriate, and, when taken too far, can be sexual harassment. A common tactic people use to avoid being accused of sexual harassment is to say they were “complimenting” as an excuse for their harmful behavior. In these cases, women should not feel obligated to smile or to thank the other person to make them feel happy about making this kind of comment.

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules when distinguishing inappropriate compliments—many women are uncomfortable with compliments about their appearance, but not all. Additionally, the context of the compliment can make a difference—what feels inappropriate at work may feel fun and flirty at a bar. The bottom line is if someone offers you a compliment that makes you uncomfortable, you do not have to smile and say “thank you.” 
How to Accept Compliments and Praise as a Woman

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Shonda Rhimes's "Year of Yes" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Year of Yes summary:

  • The story of a woman who said "yes" to every opportunity for a year
  • How to go from surviving to full-hearted thriving
  • Why you shouldn't be uncomfortable with receiving praise

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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