How Do You Respond to Praise?
by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. and Harry S Truman, C.F.P.
Your supervisor says, "Congratulations on landing the
Smith contract! Your creativity at the sales meeting was
Ah, praise! The kudos! The acclaim! The applause!
Rewards that result from your good work! How do you
respond to praise? Do you bask graciously in the
limelight? Or do you mumble and fumble for words? Do you
treasure the moment of glory? Or do you shrink in
Praise serves a number of purposes.
- It draws people together through an exchange of
- It can motivate people to greater achievement.
- It tells people that they have performed well
and/or improved over previous performance.
- It observes examples of excellence that others
may choose to follow.
When people have trouble accepting praise, it is
usually evident. Some feel awkward and undeserving while
they mumble some meaningless reply and quickly vacate
the scene. Some resort to a self-deprecating attitude,
saying things such as "It was nothing, really." Some get
pompous and use praise as a springboard for bragging
about their other achievements. None of these is an
appropriate way to respond to praise. How you accept
praise has to do with your self-esteem, the way you
validate your efforts, and knowing what to say in
Self-esteem has everything to do with how you feel
about praise. Low self-esteem is characterized by an
intense desire to be liked, coupled with feelings, deep
down inside, that one is inadequate and not worth
liking. People with low self-esteem may desperately
yearn for praise, but when it comes, they feel
uncomfortable with it, like an imposter. Their
self-criticism overrides their ability to recognize
their strengths and qualities and appreciate their
talents and contributions.
If low self-esteem hampers your ability to enjoy
praise, then your call to personal growth is to realize
that you don't have to be perfect to be liked, admired,
and deemed competent. Improve whatever you can about
yourself and then like yourself in spite of what you
cannot change. You are not defined solely by your
shortcomings and mistakes. Consider the possibility that
your life was meant to serve some meaningful purpose and
that the universe at this moment would be incomplete
without you. You have as much right to take up space on
the planet as anyone else, and the very fact of your
existence means you were meant to be here. You are
entitled to be a friend to yourself.
Low self-esteem does no one any good. It robs people
of the drive to succeed and to give their best. It is a
barrier to excellence. People aren't born with high or
low self-esteem. Self-esteem is a learned trait,
acquired from life experiences. People with low
self-esteem have interpreted some of their experiences
to mean "I'm not good enough." Fortunately, low
self-esteem can be unlearned, and negative beliefs about
self-worth can be replaced by positive ones!
If you have low self-esteem, do something to boost
your opinion and liking of yourself. Read inspirational
and self-help books, get into counseling and confront
your fears, and look in the mirror and say "I love you,"
hundreds of times until you mean it. Get out of negative
relationships and surround yourself with happy, loving
people who love themselves! Be kind and forgiving and
loving to yourself at all times.
When you receive praise, focus on what you've done
well. Refuse to criticize or belittle your efforts.
Assume that you must be doing something competently.
Really listen to the positive feedback and respect it.
Appreciate the value of praise not only to yourself, but
to those who express it. Let praise and gentle, positive
feedback for improvement become a part of your own inner
Internal and External Validation
Psychologists recognize that a common personality
trait is the manner in which people obtain validation
for their efforts. Validation styles range across a
continuum from internal validators to external
validators. Both styles have their advantages and
disadvantages when it comes to responding to praise and
Internal validators don't need much feedback from
others, because they know, inside, when they've done a
good job. They know what "feels right," and bringing
about that "right" feeling is how they determine the
quality of their performance or product. Some internal
validators keep a mental checklist of criteria or
standards against which they judge their performance.
When the items on the list get checked off, then the
"right" feeling kicks in! Internal validators often
regard praise as nice, but unnecessary and perhaps
superfluous. If they think they have done a poor job at
something, no amount of praise can convince them
otherwise. The advantage of having internal validation
is that one can work independently, and get satisfaction
from doing a task well, without outside recognition. The
disadvantage is that the internal validator may be
blinded by his or her own internal standards and ignore
what others want and value.
External validators, on the other hand, thrive on
praise. They need praise to know whether they've done a
good job. They are good at asking for feedback and will
apply it. They want to please and impress others who are
in a position to bestow rewards. They are suited for
customer service type of jobs, because they can figure
out what others want and deliver it. Their weakness,
however, is that, without praise, they feel ignored,
neglected, and unappreciated. They may even feel
insulted when they have worked hard and praise is not
forthcoming! To them, an absence of praise may mean they
have performed poorly!
If you tend to validate internally, get "reality
checks," by asking others to evaluate your work
sincerely and specifically. Turn off your internal
dialog and listen reflectively to what others say to
you. Become aware of other's standards and values as
well as your own. If you tend to validate externally,
remember; lack of praise does not automatically mean
your work is poor or unappreciated. Sometimes other
people just aren't aware that you need feedback or want
praise. The people who neglect to praise you may be
internal validators themselves, who don't realize how
important praise can be to others. It's fine to ask for
feedback, but don't overdo your requests. Learn to set
your own standards for judging the quality of your work.
When you meet those standards, practice saying "That's
good!" to yourself. Give yourself permission to know
when you have done a task well, and tell yourself so.
Knowing What to Say
Sincere praise is a precious gift. When a friend,
coworker, or loved one gives you praise or pays you a
compliment, look that person in the eye and say "Thank
You." Say it with true feelings of gratitude. You could
even share how it feels to receive such a gift. Say
something like "It feels good to be appreciated," or
"I'm glad I could take part." You can respond adroitly
to praise if you remember to do three things:
- Like yourself well enough to recognize when you
do something well.
- Obtain validation from the inside and the
- Treat praise like a gift. Say words of thanks
and acknowledge the giver graciously and sincerely.
Then revel in the kudos, bask in the acclaim, and
smile through the applause! Accept the praise happily
when someone says "Well done!"
This article originally appeared in The
Toastmaster, the monthly magazine of Toastmasters
Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a licensed
psychotherapist and free-lance writer in solo practice
in Springfield, Virginia, specializing in
Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hypnotherapy. Her web
Harry S Truman is a Certified Financial Planner
living in San Antonio, TX. His email is