“Thanks, but it was a team effort”: The art of accepting a compliment.



I have always been a person who vehemently denies compliments and expressions of gratitude. On an honest, realistic and truthful note, I like many other people, thrive on praise.

Praise helps me strive for better and motivates me to work harder. However, the fear of appearing as a cocky egomaniac has often paralysed me into learning to become a master refuter.

Researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Nagoya Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo found a scientific explanation as to why compliments stimulate the striatum of the brain and encourage people to perform better.

Norihiro Sadata, one of the study authors stated, “To the brain receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money.”

However, somewhere along the line we have convinced ourselves and conditioned others around us to believe that putting ourselves down and diminishing our achievements makes us humble and equates to approval from our peers.

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean when someone compliments you, that you need to take it to the opposite end of the spectrum and say, “Yeah, I know I’m fantastic right?” but rather to communicate that accepting compliments is not necessarily a bad thing.


“It was a team effort”

“Don’t thank me, it was all you”

“It was no big deal!”


These are probably the most frequent lines I have used when someone has tried to thank me for my time, work or energy.

I am painfully aware of the problematic nature of my inability to accept a compliment and this has motivated me to delve a bit further into why we can’t accept the thanks we deserve for the work we put in.

Recent research studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people have numerous reasons of varying degrees of severity that explain their inability to accept compliments. Including but not limited to: Low self-esteem, cognitive dissonance and the appeal of humility.

The study found that people with low self-esteem have the most difficulty accepting compliments. They often feel that they are in someway flawed and undeserving of compliments. This often is quite interlinked with the concept of cognitive dissonance, whereby the way you see yourself does not line up with the way others compliment you. You reduce their compliments with turns of phrase like ‘Well, I got lucky this time’, which helps ease the discomfort of this disconnect.

Bragging is not commonly linked to being a desired or attractive trait in friends, colleagues or partners. Often it is simply the fear of appearing to like yourself more than you should that stops people from reacting positively when showered with accolades or compliments. This hyper realised fear serves to convince people their peers and colleagues wont want to hang around with them if they are overly arrogant or have a big head, even when they are not risk of doing so.

So, how do we accept a compliment without internally cringing, feeling uncomfortable or reducing the compliment being delivered?

I issue you with a challenge this week. Take this common exchange as an example:


Co-worker: “Good work on that project today”

What you’d normally say: “Thanks, but it was a team effort.”

What you should say: “Thank you!”


Invest in a little self-care and take ownership of your achievements and hard work. Support your peers and colleagues by complimenting them honestly and then encouraging them to not diminish their achievements when they make excuses for doing good work.

Who knew that simply by saying, “Thank you!” your performance at work could improve as well as how you feel about yourself?


  • Vanessa Song, Social Media Coordinator, Quay Appointments

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