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The Power of Receiving a Compliment

Christina McFadden is an executive and team coach, experiential facilitator and lecturer. She creates an honest, playful, space for clients to show up completely while giving support for taking big steps. She plays with leaders around the world to help them find their next version of themselves.


Seven years ago, I read an article that said the number one reason people leave their job is because they feel unseen or unheard by their boss.

I thought -- if these bosses aren't giving compliments, where else are they potentially not seeing people?

When I recently went to find the updated statistics, I discovered the numbers are even higher now:

  • 79% of employees quit because they don’t feel appreciated

  • 65% of Americans claimed they weren’t even recognized one time last year

  • 60% are more motivated by recognition than money

This made me curious about how I could help leaders grow their ability to receive. I went on to invent the compliment game.

How does it work? I start off by asking my client to give me a compliment a handful of times and each time I try a new way of receiving. Here are some of the ways we typically receive:

  • The quick to move on - ‘oh, thanks, shall we talk about the agenda for today?’

  • The oh this old thing - ‘I got these on sale, there are not even my favorite’

  • The give credit to someone else - ‘oh, give credit to the team on this one’

  • The oh you have one too - ‘give me your address and I will send this to you'

Lastly, I move to the simple heartfelt ‘thank you’.

I then ask the leader to reflect on what they are learning. Leaders can often see themselves or someone they know in one of the replies.

This is a big aha moment as most leaders don't understand that in deflecting a compliment they are turning down a bid to connect.

It doesn’t matter if the compliment is real or true. Leaders need to turn this judging filter off and instead see that someone is witnessing a part of them, no matter if they are in touch with this part or not.

Instead, see the compliment as a bid to connect and receive the bid with a thank you. This is especially important if you have more power or status than the giver of the compliment, because

it can hurt to have your gift rejected.

For part two of the game, I then give the leaders a compliment and their only job is to say thank you.

Often folks say it off the top of their head or a tightness of the lips. We then work to have them find their way to have a heartfelt thank you.

The outcome is powerful. I especially like to do this game in front of a group, because the group experiences the same power of receiving as the leader.

I had an amazing opportunity to teach this activity at Said Business School at Oxford this year. Multiple people had tears or a loss of words from seeing the power of receiving a compliment. You just don’t know how seeing someone can have such a big impact.

The leader who played the game with me later came up to me and said that the game had changed them. They now had access to a part of themselves they hadn’t been using, the ability to receive on a deeper level.

I challenge you to receive more deeply by practicing saying thank you from your heart for the compliments you are already getting. It's a game changer.

Pro Tip: If you want help getting a heartfelt thank you - try putting your hand on your heart, it can help you find your way faster.


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