I recently finished working with a leadership group after a six-session engagement. At the close of the program, we had a poignant exercise where each person shared their positive first impressions of one another. In describing the exercise, I encouraged each person to think of the standout attribute of their colleague and share both what it was AND why it made such an impact. I encouraged the receivers to simply listen and then say thank you at the end of receiving.
Upon concluding the exercise, I asked two questions. First, how was it to give the positive impression? Everyone in unison lit up stating it was such a joy – a true gift to give someone a remarkable compliment. Then I asked what it was like to receive. Crickets… After a moment of silence, someone shared that it is much harder to receive. I asked why and a few themes arose:
- The anticipation of hearing something unfavorable was still on people’s minds even though they knew the exercise was intended to be positive.
- It was uncomfortable to be the center of attention, especially for those who valued humility.
From a neuroscience standpoint, the brain is always trying to protect itself, so the anticipation of a negative remark is just the brain doing its job. That’s normal and somewhat difficult to override. Being the center of attention however is very different than graciously owning a compliment.
As a leader, you must be able to take a compliment in the moment. Several of my coaching clients are working to increase their confidence. If this sounds like you, I invite you to bask in the glow of a positive moment before just brushing it off, or worse, beating yourself up for not being more. I also recommend you text or email three colleagues or friends this week and ask them to share a positive first impression about you. You may be surprised what they say. If this sounds like an atypical ask, remember, it is a true joy for people to give you a compliment. I imagine you don’t fish for compliments daily, so let your colleagues delight in giving you this gift.
Lastly, reciprocate! Begin to make it a habit of telling people how they are positively impacting you or the team. It is both a gift to give the compliment and it’s also invaluable for people to know how they’re coming across.
In the spirit of giving and receiving this holiday season, start and end with compliments.