I can't take a compliment. I shouldn't say that... I have trouble accepting compliments. Having been very unpopular through school, the notion that I can't possibly be prettier, smarter, or more talented than anyone else became firmly ingrained into my brain. Having discovered that by failing to accept compliments graciously I was not only undermining myself by denying myself the enjoyment of praise where it was due, but also offending people who were complimenting me because I was essentially dismissing what they said and invalidating their opinion of me, I started working on getting rid of this bad habit. I still have some ways to go, but I am a lot better than I was. When I fall into the old rut by laughing a compliment off or launching into an explanation of how it really wasn't me but something else (team, assistance from another person, lucky circumstances), I do my best to catch myself and force myself to take a ti-i-i-iny little pause before I respond. That little interval of time is just enough to toss out whatever I was going to say to dismiss the compliment and say, "Thank you!" instead.
I know I am not the only one with this problem - the problem of "yes, but", which causes us to diminish our self-worth in our own minds, while simultaneously chipping away at our friendships and good business relationships. That's right! When you berate yourself out loud to other people - especially in response to a positive gesture on their part - you offend them as well, because you tell them that whatever they think of you, your brain, your work, your apperance, and your other qualities is wrong, so they might as well just stop right now. Below are a few fairly common "yes, but" situations and the impact they have on you and others.
"Yes, but" Outfitters - the place where appearances go to die
Situation: The outfit you wear for work looks particularly nice. Maybe you have a date or an interview after work, or maybe you just felt like paying particular attention to what you decided to wear that day. A co-worker says, "Hey, you look great!"
Your response: "Oh, gosh, I've had this suit for ages! I am not really sure if this shirt really goes with this tie - I sort of just stumbled into my closet this morning and grabbed the first thing I saw. My shoes definitely need some polish - haven't done that since forever!"
How it comes across to the other person: "You are either blind or totally devoid of fashion sense. How can you possibly think that I look good?"
What you are saying to yourself: "Yes, I took care getting dressed this morning, but I am so ugly, there is nothing that can possibly make me look better. I don't deserve to look good. I don't deserve nice clothes. In fact, I should just wrap myself in burlap, pour some ashes over my head and store myself in the closet under the stairs."
Possible results: People will feel as if you invalidate their opinion of your looks and stop paying you compliments. I mean, what's the sense in telling someone they look great, if they are just going to turn around and point out everything that's wrong with their appearance? Believe it or not - it's not easy to pay compliments in this day and age, especially in our litigious society when half the people might run away screaming, "Sexual harassment!" in response to a comment about their looks or clothes. So, if you make it this difficult for other people to pay you compliments, guess what? They are just not going to bother anymore.
Remedy: Pause before you open your mouth. Squelch all thoughts creeping into your head to the effect of, "I am ugly. I am badly dressed. I am unworthy of a compliment." Turn to the person who paid you a compliment, smile and say "Thank you. I am glad you like it!" If you feel you have to do pennance for accepting a compliment, make a point of paying a compliment to someone else the same day - even several. You'll find that paying compliments to others might make it easier to accept them yourself. When you get home, before you change out of your nice clothes, pour yourself a glass of wine, walk up to the mirror, say, "Cheers, handsome!" and clink glasses with yourself. Your family might think you are insane, but in light of a compliment-filled day it might not seem like such a big deal.
"Yes, but" Favors - the request assassination service
Situation: Someone asks you a favor. Maybe a co-worker needs to run out for an appointment and asks you to sit in on a conference call for him. Or maybe a friend of yours had just started a business and needs you to help spread the word by letting your other friends know. Your spouse might need you to change the AC setting before you leave in the morning. Whatever it is - it's small.
Your response: "Oh, gosh I don't know if I can do that. I don't know anything about [the subject of the conference call, your friend's business, buttons on the AC pad, etc.] Will I have to say anything? I would really hate to screw things up."
How it comes across to the other person: "Don't you know I already have plenty to do? I really don't want to do this for you, so I am going to come up with as many excuses as I possibly can to make you feel bad about asking me. I'll do this thing for you, but I'll resent you for imposing on me."
What you are saying to yourself: "I am completely inept and untrustworthy. Nobody ever listens to me. Nothing I ever do works out. I am King Midas of failure - everything I touch turns to poop instead of gold. I am so terrified of somehow messing something up, that I would rather not even try. Or, if I agree to do something, I'll pile on the fine print - all the disclaimers why it might not turn out as expected."
Possible results: People will start saying, "You know what? Just, forget it. I'll do it myself or ask someone else." If this is your reaction in response to a simple favor, they'll feel that you are not worth asking and really can't be trusted. But then, don't be surprised, if your friends and co-workers will not only stop asking you for favors but will also stop involving you in stuff that's fun. They won't ask you if you want to go have a drink after work - because you'll reply that you are too busy or that place where they are going is really not that great, so what's the sense in asking? You might discover that your spouse threw out his or her back while rearranging furniture in the living room, and to your surprised question as to why he/she didn't ask you to help, to hear that it just wasn't worth the trouble. There is nothing more discouraging than a disinterested and unmotivated helper - a person like that takes the steam out of all activities. So, why bother?
Remedy: Pause before you open your mouth. If you have time to oblige whoever is asking you for a favor, but honestly don't know much about the subject of it, say, "Sure, I'd be happy to. But can you tell me a little more about it, so that I would know what to say, or what information to capture and pass on to you, in case someone asks?" Or, "Very cool, congratulations on going into business! I know you'll do great. Is there a link or an e-mail or a phone number I can give people in case they want to know more?" Or, "Sure, would you remind me, which buttons on the AC do I use?"
If you are truly swamped to do even a small favor, you can still decline graciously, "Look, buddy, I am really sorry - but I have an overlapping meeting at the same time. Sounds like we are both overscheduled. Let's find 15 minutes and grab a coffee tomorrow." Or, "Gosh, would you mind if I put this on my to-do list for next week? Lots going on this week, but I really do want to spread the word about your business - I know it's great and you've been working on it a long time. I am putting a reminder on my calendar right now. In the meantime, can you send me more information about it that I can pass along?"
If you establish a reputation as a gracious acceptor and decliner of requests for help, people will never feel bad or guilty asking you about stuff, because they'll know they can trust you to be honest about your capacity. Asking is tough, folks. Just read the Aladdin Factor - a fantastic reminder of how life tends to teach us not to ask for anything and limit ourselves in the process. Don't make it any harder for people to ask you something than it already is. Declining a request is not a crime as long as you do it honestly and without upsetting the requester. And agreeing to help someone, even if you are not certain you can do it 100% perfectly, means that when you need help, you have a few people in your corner to ask for support.
"Yes, but" Decorators - also known is "My home is a combination pig sty / neanderthal cave, no matter what I do"
Situation: You work hard to clean up your house to make it look nice for visitors or for a party. Or maybe things feel a bit dull, and you re-decorate a couple of rooms. It's not perfect, but looks much better than before. Your visitors say, "Wow, the place looks great!"
Your response: "Yeah, but I really wish I didn't splatter paint all over the floor." Or, "Yeah, but now this old couch totally doesn't fit in." Or, "I don't know... I really wish I had the money to hire a professional. I had no clue what I was doing."
How it comes across to the other person: "Oh, sure! You - with your perfectly spotless and flawlessly decorated house are going to tell me mine looks nice. Yeah, right! Like we both don't know that the place is a wreck. Sure, I would have sulked of evening if you didn't say anything, because I slaved for two weeks to get this place into shape. But now that you did say something, I am just not going to believe you."
What you are saying to yourself: "I am a slob and have no taste. I may as well have just papered the walls with old newspapers and covered the windows up with aluminum foil. I hate my house and I don't really like inviting people over. It's really not worth cleaning or decorating it, because something will always look like crap."
Possible results: While you will grow to resent your home more and more, people will visit you less and less. They will sense that instead of being happy to welcome guests and having a good time, all you ever are is stressed and tired. They'll be equally reluctant to offer you praise on the appearance of your house (because you'll only dismiss it) and to offer you any help or advice with cleaning or decorating (because you'll take it as criticism and despise them for it).
Remedy: Any guesses? That's right! Pause before you open your mouth. Say, "Thank you - I am glad you think so! It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too and I am really happy with how it all came together. I might hire someone for the difficult parts next time, but I'll certainly want to participate now that I have some skills under my belt."
Yes, it is tough to keep our homes clean and looking well. Trust me - I know! We have two grownups working from home and four animals living in a very small very old house. Believe you me - I do have those days when keeping the place looking and feeling suitable for human habitation feels like a challenge. At the same time, considering that it is so much work, I feel I am entitled to praise and supprt at the end of the day. Damn straight, I had a full day of work, and did four loads of laundry, and all the ironing, and managed to have dinner on the table by 7:30 p.m. - so why shouldn't I get a bit of recognition?
Yes, the kitchen looked like a disaster zone for a while - but we managed to restore order out of chaos. It took a while, because other things kept popping up, but it got done and now it looks great! So, why shouldn't we pat ourselves on the back and toast our success? So what there are some paint splashes on the floor, and some overflow between colors here and there? Big deal! We'll do better next time!
If your home does feel crowded and cluttered, ask for help (that's where being able to give help graciously just might pay off) and organize the mother of all spring cleanings. Here is a great advice from Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine of BBC's What Not to Wear: walk through your house and touch everything you choose to keep in it. Everything not chosen to stay has to go - sold or given away, quickly. That way, from that day forward, you will live surrounded by things that you truly love and value.
"Yes, but" Professionals - your friendly neighborhood career killers of choice
Situation: You have been working on a project long and hard - nights, weekends, the works. You make a final push to get everything ready and give a presentation the next day. All goes well, and your boss and team mates say, "Great job!"
Your response: "Yes, but I really didn't do that much. I know others have much harder projects than mine. And besides, I messed up the font on slide 7 of the presentation."
How it comes across to the other person: "I resent you all for going home at a reasonable hour, while I was busting my hump over here. So, please, just keep your stupid praises to yourself - I know you don't mean a word of it, you bunch of lazy bastards."
What you are saying to yourself: "Nobody will ever notice my work. It doesn't matter what I do, how well I do it, or how hard I labor - it's all for naught. I'll never get promoted and will die at my desk."
Possible results: Because you continuously minimize your efforts in the eyes of others, they will eventually buy into it and start thinking that all your late hours are a result of your being unskilled and inefficient. What else are they supposed to think, if, according to you, their work is more difficult and more important than yours, and yet they see you working all those late nights? At best, your manager will give all challenging and interesting work to the others, and you'll be stuck with all the boring projects. At worst, you'll be deemed poorly qualified to do your job and get fired.
Remedy: All together now! Pause before you open your mouth. Say, "Thank you! It took some time, but I am glad how it came out. That was a fun project to work on, and I learned a lot. I can't wait to do another one now that this one is finished."
If you treat your work like drudgery, guess what? It will feel like it. Having worked on the assembly line, waited tables and washed dishes, I had a chance to experience truly menial, truly mind-numbing jobs myself. I did my darndest to become qualified for better jobs but, in the meantime, not to kill my own brain cells with a lousy attitude. Doing dishes at the college cafeteria wasn't exactly the high point in my career, but I got to disassemble and re-assemble the big dish-washing machine at the end of each day. Being a Mechanical Engineering student, I used that as an opportunity to get used to handling a fairly heavy piece of equipment by myself - because I knew I would run into something like that when working in the manufacturing environment.
If you dislike your job and really cannot find another one quickly enough, do your best to find something positive about it. Take pride in what you do. If you yourself are not convinced that you add value to your workplace and perform important duties, then how do you expect other people (including the ones who hand out raises and promotions) to buy into that and appreciate you as a professional?
"Yes, but" Questions - the stiflers of inquiring minds
Situation: You are in a business meeting and you want to ask a question or make a suggestion. The meeting facilitator specifically said at the beginning, that the meeting is informal and everyone is free to ask questions and make suggestions at any time.
Your response: You dub your question or suggestion too dumb for public forum and stay quiet. Or, you do speak up, but you start by, "Ok, I know this is a stupid question..." or "I don't know if this is a good idea..."
How it comes across to the other person: "I have no initiative, no thoughts and no opinions of my own. Really, I am about as exciting as a filing cabinet and is worth no more attention than a stapler. Just ignore me! Please!"
What you are saying to yourself: "I am not smart. Anything that comes out of my mouth is sheer idiocy. I should really just have my mouth surgically sewn up, so that I wouldn't be tempted to open it."
Possible results: People will stop asking for your opinion and treat you as someone completely devoid of initiative. If you work in an environment where initiative and creativity is obtional, then you just might get away with it. If not - you'd better get your act together.
Remedy: Pause before you open your mouth. Say, "I have a question. I am not very familiar with this topic and I really want to understand it. So, would you mind explaining, why..." or "I have an idea and definitely tell me what you think - I'd love to get your input. This might work better if we..."
There is no law against asking questions and bringing forth your ideas - especially when you are in a forum where it's encouraged. Think about it - why would the meeting facilitators ask for the participants' opinions and input if they weren't interested. What's the worst thing that's going to happen? The answer to your question might turn out to be a fairly simple one. So what? You'll know more than you did before you asked.
So, your idea might get shot down. So what? You'd be no worse off than before you suggested it. But it might get accepted too. Imagine that! And you'll have to live with the fact that something good and clever actually came out of your brain. You'll hear from others and have a legitimate excuse to say to yourself, "I am smart!" Wow, that's really tough!
"Yes, but" Relationships - your one-way trip to loneliness
Situation: This particular "yes, but" category is not limited to just one situation. I addressed some of the situations from this category in the post Are you a 'friend that needs losing'. Essentially, you respond to every positive bit of news from your friends, every compliment from them, every gesture of compassion and every sign of affection by some statement that diminishes the positive effect.
Your response: "Yes, but are you sure you are really going to like living in that new house?" "Yes, but are you sure you really have time for a baby?" "Yes, but you earn a lot more than I do, so buying a car is not nearly as much of a hassle for you as it is for me." "Yes, but how can you advise me about my marriage - yours is perfect!"
How it comes across to the other person: "I have no faith in people. I don't care how many times anyone tells me they love me, it's all one big lie. Friendship doesn't exist. Love doesn't exist. I know you'll dump me in the end, so I might as way just harden myself to the idea now. You are not worth believing, so I'd rather not even try for fear of being disappointed later."
What you are saying to yourself: "I don't deserve to be loved. Wanting true love and friendship is selfish. Everyone's life is better than mine. I will die alone and nobody will know about it until there is smell coming out from under the door."
Possible results: There is only so many times one can tell you they love you, share good news, offer advice or comfort, only to hear something negative in response. This state of mind, "All people are bastards not worth trusting" tends to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your friends and loved ones will get tired of not being trusted and of constantly being dumped on by you, and leave. So, then you'll have the satisfaction of saying to yourself, "See, didn't I say this was going to happen?!" Does that sound like fun to you? You'll be right - and alone and truly undeserving of love and human company.
Remedy: Pause before you open your mouth. Say, "That is great news! You must be so excited about [new baby, new job, new house, new car]. I know things are hectic right now, let me know if there is anything I can do to help." Or, "Thank you, I really appreciate your concern. Your support is really important to me." Or, "Thank you, I love you too."
We don't live in a vacuum. We interact with other people all the time. Some of our relationships are good, some are not so good, some can be downright awful. I don't know about you, but I prefer to set my level by the relationships that are good. Even if it doesn't work out, I'd rather expect it to be good and be disappointed, than expect it to be bad and be right.
Not all men are cheating bastards, not all women are lying bitches. When people offer you compassion, they are not secretly laughing at your misfortunes - they are just offering compassion. When someone tells you they love you, they don't mean "if you are perfect" or "only to dump you three months later" - they just mean they love you. Flipping heck, our legal system is based on the presumption of innoncence! "Innocent until proven guilty." So, why approach your relationships with the presumption of guilt? "Scum of the Earth, until proven a tolerably nice person."
Of course, there are bad people and bad relationships out there. Again, this is something I know first-hand. I survived two attempted rapes - both before the age of fifteen. My first marriage was a disaster - and it was as much my fault as it was my first husband's. I had friendships and business relationships that fell apart - sometimes because I handled them badly, and sometimes because of other people. However, I chose to believe that the next love, friendship, job, whatever was going to be better - and presently, my "relationship landscape" is looking pretty good. It's not luck, folks, I made it so. It took effort and great faith to create and maintain good solid relationships, in which I feel loved, appreciated and secure.
Dale Carnegie suggested giving people a reputation and they will try to follow it. So, why not give those who surround it a good reputation - and tell them about it. "I know I can trust you." "I know I can count on you in a bind." "I know you love me." "You are the most honest and objective person I have ever met, so I know I can trust your opinion." When was the last time you said any of this to someone you loved, instead of sulking quietly, while thinking the entire time, "Can I really trust him?" "Can I really call her if I am in trouble?" "Does he really love me?" "Can I really count on my friends being honest with me?" If it is the latter, then replace each question with a statement and say it with conviction. The more confidence you express about your loved one's positive qualities, the more they will want to prove to you that your faith in them is well-founded. At the same time, they themselves will feel more like telling you what they love about you, boosting your own faith in yourself as a worthy, lovable, fantastic individual.