Have you ever been in a situation where you make suggestions or take steps that seem obvious, but the people around you act like you’ve just invented the next killer App?
One explanation for the gap between your achievement and their reaction may be that you have finally reached a level of considerable expertise. It’s like when you’re watching athletes who have been honing their skills for years. Their everyday performance seems amazing to you. And if you have worked hard to become an expert in your field, your routine work may have the power to astound your colleagues.
But if you feel unease when you’re given praise for your work, you may be suffering from a bit of the “imposter phenomenon.” Social psychologists say that it is not uncommon for high achievers to experience secret discomfort when their work is praised.
If you feel like an imposter, you might believe that so far you have been lucky, and that your success is the result more of external factors than your own work. Or perhaps you suspect that you are somehow creating a fake impression of competence, and that you’re not nearly as skillful as you appear. Or maybe you always want to discount your achievement, feeling a constant need to explain that your success is really not a big deal.
Another explanation is simply that you have never learned to take a compliment. Perhaps you grew up in a family where people didn’t gracefully say “thank you” in response to praise. And now your knee-jerk response to positive commentary is to minimize your worthiness.
Finally, when praise for your work makes you squirm, perhaps it is because you know that you really were not doing your best. And maybe you think that your employer’s standards are just too low.
Regardless of the reasons that praise on the job makes you uncomfortable, a few techniques will make it much easier to take:
- Set specific goals. If you define precise goals, and your bosses agree to them, ultimately everybody will know whether or not you are successful. If you write down measurable goals, create an action plan for achieving them, and then follow the plan, your success will be hard to miss. You will find praise easier to accept when it clearly reflects the facts of what happened.
- Ask for details. Sometimes positive sounding feedback doesn’t actually feel good because it seems vague and over-blown. If you feel like you could have done much better, but they say “terrific job,” it is hard to know what is really going on. If you have a good relationship with your boss, ask for a more specific critique of various aspects of your accomplishments.
- Calm your self-talk. Maybe the problem isn’t so much their nice words as the way you comment upon those words inside your head. If your habitual response to praise is to tell yourself “you should do much better” it’s no wonder you don’t enjoy it. Notice your internal response to positive feedback, and replace negative refrains with phrases like, “it feels good when they recognize my hard work.”
- Learn to accept compliments. When somebody comments on your good work, say “thank you.” Praise is a gift, and it is rude and unkind to rebuff the giver with phrases that reject their compliments. Cultivate a sense of gratitude for their effort, and express that gratitude with genuine words of appreciation for their tribute. If you feel a need to even things up, find a way to compliment them in return.
Want to hear about issues like this? Bev and her colleagues are available to provide coaching and create training sessions, workshops and retreats. Talk to Bev if you’re looking for ways to address topics related to your work life and other challenges and transitions. Meanwhile, check out Bev's website www.ClearWaysConsulting.com.
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