Learning to Handle Compliments

  • Sumo

Yes. Learning.

A pattern reared itself while I was working on my LexThink presentation: backdoor compliments, more commonly known as insults. Like being told you were added to the speaking roster because you are female. What, if anything, you had to say was irrelevant. There’s still a mix of emotion whenever I read that recounting. Distance has provided some perspective, and I can picture the decision tree: staff, no additional cost, no time spent wrangling. Those were the factors that mattered, not whether I had anything useful to say. Now, within the context of LexThink, two things stick out: I have something useful to say, and I don’t care if I end up speaking because I’m female.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female: if you suck, you suck. People will tell you, too.

I expected to be told I suck. My presentation is all a jumble in my head, and I swear I repeated only three words for the entire six minutes. Except I kept getting compliments. Compliments! Words other people hear often. Words that have positive meaning. Genuine praise. Genuine compliments.

I smiled and said “thank you,” waiting for that backdoor to swing open. It remained closed.

In my apartment that night, staring out at the city lights, I was exhilarated yet curious. The experience was, as seems to be a new pattern, the opposite of what I had been conditioned to expect. The concept of “The Fractured Self” surfaced, along with that phrase, “thank you,” so I went back to my Data Points notebook.

I found a note referencing an email I sent to the Contributors list of Small Firm Innovation in August. I had learned that the blog had been named to InfusionSoft’s Top 50 Small Business Blogs to Watch.

I had emailed the Contributors to express my gratitude for their involvement. Their contributions helped turn an unknown blog into an award-winning one within its first few months of launch, and now it was named a Top 50 Small Business Blog to Watch. They’re amazing people, and I wanted them to know.

Having internalized the complete lack of interest in the blog from the company, from my perspective I had done nothing. I merely performed the job duties associated with running a blog, just as anyone else would if they were in my position. Nothing special. Just reach out to people, talk to them a little a bit, give them some ideas until they latch onto one and then help refine before publishing.

Nothing special. I was simply executing my job duties to the best of my ability.

Some of you want to reach through the screen and strangle me. Understandable. Know the word myopic? That was me because the reflection I got at work every day was “nothing special” if not flat out useless. As also seems to be a theme, it took an email to shock my brain circuitry.

Jordan Furlong, an adviser to Small Firm Innovation, was the first to respond:

Gwynne, huge congratulations on the Top 50 placement for SFI! You gave the contributors all the credit, but failed to keep any for yourself — this blog wouldn’t be the success it is without your dedication and leadership. Kudos! All the best.

I remember my breath catching in my throat, and that sensation of trying to breath while holding my breath at the same time.

Success. Dedication. Leadership.

I didn’t know what to do with those words. I didn’t understand how they applied to me until I factored in context: work. Those words were not used to describe me in the context of work. I wasn’t wanted at work. I was worthless at work.

Success. Dedication. Leadership.

Those words were reserved for everything outside of work, where happiness existed. Those words made sense outside of work. I understood them in the context of softball, Ultimate Frisbee, dodgeball and anything else outside of work. What am I supposed to do with these words, now that Jordan tasered my “hate-filled inner critic” and smashed through the worthless, useless sphere of work?

To this day I cannot remember if I ever responded. My inclination had been to send a sarcastic, dismissive response but I had recognized that as a pattern of dealing with passive-aggressiveness. Jordan was being direct. If he reads this, perhaps he’ll dig and see if he finds a response. I’m curious to know, and fill that Data Point gap.

While Jordan’s email provided space, and distance since an immediate response wasn’t necessary, LexThink did not. I’m not sure what I expected once I stepped off the stage, but probably something along the lines of a handshake or two before melting into the background and returning to invisible mode.

Ha. Ha. Funny.

The front door broke off its hinges from the flood of compliments. My brain circuitry overloaded, and all I could say was the safe and gracious thing:

Thank you.

Safe and gracious. I’m finding that to be a good way to learn to handle compliments. I’m also finding it to be a useful way to break the pattern of being dismissive and sarcastic. Gracious, by itself, is a useful way to break the pattern of dismissive and sarcastic. It changes my perception so that I can appreciate when Rick Klau of Google Ventures repeats points I made in my LexThink presentation. It serves to strengthen and validate my points, that if Google is paying attention to data to make decisions, perhaps you should, too. Data can be anything, not just searches, numbers or products.

Safe and gracious. New data points that will form new patterns. Though I still fear saying something dismissive and sarcastic after a compliment, I am learning that it takes practice and patience to establish new patterns.

Practice and patience. Safe and gracious. Points to establish new patterns.

4 thoughts

  1. Kudos to you, Gwynne, for your growing self-awareness. It’s not easy to recognize our own patterns, and sometimes even harder to change them once we do. Thanks for sharing.

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