Burnout to Leadership

Ep#28 How to give and receive a compliment

April 08, 2022 Dex Randall Season 1 Episode 28
Burnout to Leadership
Ep#28 How to give and receive a compliment
Show Notes Transcript
  • What to do if compliments make you uncomfortable.
  • How our brains interpret the words of others.
  • Practising the skill of compliments.
  • Becoming an intentional supporter of yourself and others.

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Hi everyone, my name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello my friends, my name is Dex, and I've decided to talk today about giving and receiving compliments, because let's be honest, how good are we at this? If you're silently answering, "Yeah, not very good," or if you're wincing a bit at the very thought, then this episode is for you. And I'm not going to gender stereotype here either, I'm really talking to type A professionals. I mean this is a burnout podcast, right? So if you're in or near burnout, this episode is definitely for you because an inability to digest complements, at least in some key aspects of your life and work, usually comes with the territory. If you're having difficulty giving compliments, also listen on. Or if you are a giver of compliments to someone you love and they're not being well received, and also keep listening. And hand on heart, I've been meaning to make this episode for a while, but my track record of receiving compliments gracefully is a bit sketchy, and sometimes I do still wince and squirm with embarrassment, although at the same time, I really truly appreciate the generosity and I do feel the warm glow of it. So I'm still tiny bit compliment shy, and talking about it here, I really have no desire to pretend otherwise. I've come on a long road with compliments, and I feel pretty happy with where I'm at now. But anyway, before we get into the why and wherefore of compliments, let's just take a moment to explain a related concept. If you're new to coaching and self coaching, one of the main pillars of truth for us is that what happens in the world around us is simply a circumstance in our life, something beyond our control, which is totally neutral, neutral as in neither good nor bad. We only perceive external events as good or bad, when we have a thought about them. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." And you might find that a potentially contentious statement, but let's look at a really trivial example of being an hour late for a theater show. You might find it very stressful, you might be fuming, if you pride yourself on being on time for everything, maybe you were held up in a traffic jam, or it could be a huge relief because you were dreading sitting through a show that you consider boring. Same circumstance, can you see that as neutral? 'Cause you could have had a positive or negative thought about it. And the reason it's important to see events in the world as neutral is because we can't control them. We can't stop things happening in our everyday lives. We can't control the world and we can't control the people in it. And the reason it's important to see that our perception of events, our thoughts cause us to interpret events as good or bad. Is that our thoughts of good and bad, create our feelings. So basically, if we choose a good thought, we'll feel good, and if we choose our "bad thought" we're gonna feel bad. If we choose a different thought than we have now, we're gonna feel differently. In other words, we can control how we feel about what happens. And in the previous example about the theater, we could be fuming with rage or we could feel huge relief depending on the thought we had about being an hour late. And the reason I'm telling you this is I'm guessing that you'd like to control how you feel. And that explanation, by the way, is the core principle of cognitive behavior therapy or CBT. That thoughts are the primary determinants of emotions, and thus behavior. And we use this principle in coaching to work with our thoughts to find a solution to any problem, it gives us maximum agency over our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviors, ultimately, it gives us maximum agency over creating the kind of life we want. We can literally make a better life for ourselves. So if that's all new to you, maybe go and look up CBT sometime. The idea that I've just talked about is used extensively in psychotherapy. But to be honest, for my money, coaching applies the technique much faster to real life problems, it applies them in the day, and naturally, I have some bias on that being a coach, not a psychotherapist. Anyway, the reason I mention all external events are neutral circumstances in our lives until we have a thought judging them, good or bad, is that a compliment is an external event, it's just a person saying words about us, and those words could come across in our brains, as wonderful or terrible. It's 100% up to us. If someone tells me how much they love my suit, I might receive those words as the best gift I've had this year, or I might take them as an insult, it's literally my choice. So how do I make that choice? What happens in my brain is in a split second, my unconscious mind comes through its data bank of experiences and learnings in life. I basically read my self conscious for memories of similar events in the past. And then I find one, so I've already got a stock response to this situation, and I don't need to waste energy or effort forming a new thought, I recycle the old one. That's how our brains work. If they can recycle an old thought, an old response, they will, if they can't it force them to make a new one, but that as we get older, increasingly rare. So, how any of us think about a compliment, then we'll depend on our history, our culture, our parents, our teachers, our life experience; what we've been taught to think about compliments and the person issuing them, and the words that they used, and the tone of voice, what we've been told to think about ourselves, our status and our own worthiness. We process the compliment through the prism of what we already know. And as type A personality people, typically people in Burnout, those of us who are very invested in being driven, high performers, where we become type A for a reason. We could have the nature or nurture debate here, but let's assume right now that some conditioning took place that caused us to behave as type A people, and it accumulate those habits and attitudes. Well then, often, we were taught to have extremely high standards as a youngster, maybe by our parents, maybe they were high achievers, and had high expectations of us, or perhaps they paid for an expensive education for us, or maybe they judged or blamed us frequently for unacceptable performance or behavior, social, educational, sport, it doesn't really matter. Maybe cultural values suggested we should aim for top shelf careers, respectability, status, affluence and influence, or maybe our caregivers, our parents, were just teaching us to escape the poverty trap by being a high achiever. And it could be our bundle of things, these are just a few, but some of them may ring true for you. For me and my family, it was a little bit of all of that. My parents grew up in poverty, particularly my father, and success for him, growing up out a home meant feeding his sisters, basically, feeding his family. And he worked like a Trojan for us and our family to make sure we were fed and sheltered and well educated, and some of my schooling, I will say, was privately funded, and happily, from there, I went on to University and studied Maths and IT, which I love completely. So, that's how I kind of got there, it was self protective on the part of my father, he taught me how not to starve, essentially. But regardless, if we are or have become type A personality people, it becomes at some point imperative to reach for and cling to success. So, we deliberately develop the attributes required to operate at that consistently high level, and our self image then revolves around that success, and the fall out of that drive to succeed is often self judgement, self criticism and self blame. We often aren't very nice to ourselves, we might be hypersensitive to perceptions of failure, and then we'll work even harder to eliminate deficiencies that we perceive, we do tend to be our harshest critics. So I'm gonna guess that a whole bunch of you people listening to this can relate to at least some of what I'm saying, and it certainly applies to me. So, what do we do then? Well, if without hypersensitive and self critical, compliments aren't usually in the picture that much, if we receive a compliment, we may choose not to hear it or not to absorb it or not to believe it, we will probably refute or discount it, because our brains are still stuck in self judgment. It's a pretty rare day when we can genuinely and generously compliment ourselves, and then when that's true, there's little chance that we'll behave differently with others, okay. So, it's alright, because giving and receiving compliments is a skill. So, we can learn it, whatever age you are now, you can learn it, and that's one of the wonderful things about coaching, I think, you can learn to ease up on yourself, appreciate yourself, be gentle and kind towards yourself, and really that's the core of coaching, developing a warmer and more supportive relationship with yourself. And, when you treat yourself better, you're going to organically treat the people in your world better too. And generosity from the heart, in the form of compliments is, it's universally healing, and in burnout we're basically missing out on that, no wonder we're suffering. I do teach giving and receiving compliments as a skill in my coaching practice, because warm, genuine and caring relationships are the social glue and the reward available to anyone coming out to burnout. Giving in the end is even more deeply rewarding than receiving, but both skills work together to create a more fulfilling life. Personally, I grew up in a climate where compliments were a bit missing in action, a clip around the air or a little light ridicule or public humiliation formed much stronger memories for me about my childhood. And back in my youth, I wrote letters to my sister who I adored, and she kept them in a big bundle. And a few years ago, really quite recently, she showed them to me, and I was absolutely horrified, I was appalled at what I'd written, because every single letter started with something despicably mean about her, it was open with some blistering attack. And I suddenly saw when I read those as... At my age, as an adult, I suddenly saw how I'd been taught to relate to the people I cared about. I suddenly saw, I've been taught to talk to them, this was the template for relationships that I learned as a child. And quite oddly, the letters didn't fracture my relationship with my sister, and I guess because she'd learned the same way of communicating as I had, and it was normal for both of us, we didn't really question it, at that age, and I'm very happy to report, we remain very close to this day, but it certainly does explain why compliments have been a bit tricky for me during my lifetime, and if I couldn't receive compliments, I surely wasn't gonna give any. And I deeply regret this for a long, long time, I really felt deep shame about it, but as I said, it's a skill we can learn, its a skill I have learned to both give and receive compliments, and as well as the obvious benefits, the joy of deeper connection with people the ease of everyday life and work, the fun fact, right? We get this, the sense of humour comes back, but above all of that is a superb antidote to your inner critic. Because imagine if that voice in your head was flowery in its praise of you every day. Okay first, you wouldn't believe it, but you could get used to it. Imagine if the voice sought to appreciate every part of you, everything about you, imagine how that would affect your inner and outer world, your relationship with people, events, work. Imagine what a new vocabulary of appreciation would do to your enjoyment of what is. I imagine how restful the present moment would be if you weren't terrorising yourself but instead being kind, 'cause really, you can practice complimenting yourself any time. And you can interrupt your inner critic in order to do it. The thing about compliment though is if it's a new skill, you could be a bit rusty. The thing is, it needs to be genuine, because everyone can spot a fake and it doesn't feel good. So if you're new to the world of compliments, think about something in yourself that if you detected it in another person you would be impressed by or appreciative about, and then decide to believe that about yourself, believing in the basic goodness of you as expressed in your compliment. So here's a few small examples, and the small examples are as good as the big ones, one of my clients complemented himself, on never going to work unshaven, another for remembering to smile instead of frown while he was thinking about and solving a work problem with a colleague, another for not being reactive and fighting back when a colleague said something he interpreted as insulting, another for remembering a birthday and buying a gift. So let's use a... I don't know why I always use this example 'cause it's not a good one, but I do anyway. If you've just, for example, written a report and your inner critic thinks it's rubbish. Okay, just pause for a second look for any aspect of it you did do okay. Allow yourself to be fully generous. Imagine, for example, what you'd say, if that report was written by a junior, you were nurturing and trying to complement. Your inner critic might rebel with any kindness out of habit but ignore it, is okay, 'cause the exercise here is to find the good on purpose, there's a little gem of goodness in there, anyone will do. So for example, look at how willing you were to try to get it right, look at how you dedicated time and thought and care to it, even just look at your spelling, well, one phrase in there that was excellent, look for any tiny thing. Find something that's true or that you can make true, by deciding to believe in your own good intentions, your fundamental good nature, decide to experiment for how you can find yourself worthy or useful if you get stuck, sometimes that's easier. And then complement yourself on it. I will invite you to do it right now, just quietly in your head for no reason other than that you can, just say something nice to yourself right now. Also do it every morning when you wake up, and every evening when you go to bed, do it every time your inner critic flares up, you can just pause the critic and say something nice, intentionally, you can just decide to do that. You just gently redirect your mind to a compliment with kindness the way you would to a child. One exercise I give to my clients is to write down 10 things they appreciate themselves every day for 30 days, each day, a different 10, so that's 300 things. Try it out. Practice complimenting yourself, and after a little while, once you get used to it, when you get a little bit brave, find something to compliment a colleague about, start with praising their work because that's generally low risk, even if they're failing at something, you can compliment them for showing up, trying their best trying to get it right, their willingness to learn or let them know how their efforts have supported you or your work. Now, just as an aside, clearly there's a time and a place for personal compliments, and you'll need to be mindful of that and judge that for yourself, but once you formed a compliment, just say it, say it in person or add it to a message or an email, just do it because that's how you get good at it. By practice, even if you're a little bit rusty at first, or maybe your compliments are unexpected, and you feel awkward or the other person looks a bit awkward, keep going, practice cultivate the practice of noticing the essential good in yourself and others on purpose, and then just simply mention it. But personally, I don't recommend you delay learning this practice too long, if you don't have it now. It's really long being my fear in my life that I would grow into some sort of mean and bitter old man or gnarling and cantankerous. After all, I started out that way by demonstration. I'm really secretly hoping that that fear has now eclipsed, well, you never really know, do you? But my inner critic has by and large been tamed and I actively practice self acceptance, self care, self appreciation, self love, I'm human, but hopefully that will suffice. How I relate to myself and others now is certainly a lot less painful than the way I lived and loved in early life, and particularly in burnout. Where I didn't give myself grace and I really didn't probably give much to anyone else either. So I recommend very highly doing the work of becoming your own biggest supporter, I guess there's just no down side. You're not gonna become soft and lazy, I promise it's way too late for that to happen. And how I look at it, is like this, coaching does provide a really good, quick start on all the relevant skills that you need, and that's I think what makes coaching so sensational like you're in burnout. You just learn a new set of skills, end up enjoying life, and being successful at the same time. And if you're a person listening to this wondering why someone in your life is, shall we just say unskilled or unpractised at giving or receiving compliments, I hope this episode has shed some light for you too, 'cause you might really get curious about why, what about this person's upbringing fail to nurture this skill in them? What did they learn about human relationships early in life, and how have they felt discouraged from complimenting people or receiving compliments? And also ask yourself, even though they might not show it in the way that you'd like, are they actually receiving your compliments just quietly and secretly? Because it's really very likely that their response to your compliment is not actually about you, it's a little bit more likely to be their conditioning. And by the way, if this episode has hit the spot for you, you might also like episode number 23, which is about work performance and impostor syndrome. Imposter syndrome obviously connections with the inner critic. So thank you so much for listening today as ever, all the best with your complementary adventures. And by the way, I think you're completely marvellous, a lovely human being bursting with goodness. I know you have a good heart, I know you want to do the right thing, and I know you're doing your best. That aside, if you're inner critic is running the show, and if that's painful for you, if you're in burnout, you must come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably and get back to your best. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership Program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.