I don’t take compliments well. That is a problem. I should appreciate and accept compliments more than I do. I know, I know. It IS a personal issue. But, I usually write about pretty personal stuff, so I have decided to write about compliments and the giving and the receiving of same.
I know it isn’t just me. I know that there are other people out there that have a hard time accepting compliments, too. It is so much easier to remember the slights from others and the bad things that you think you did than the compliments that you received. This is not something I made up – it is a valid psychological thing. (Here is an article if you want to read more on the topic.) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/your-money/why-people-remember-negative-events-more-than-positive-ones.html
As such, I have starting trying to write down the compliments that I receive – particularly in relation to performing- so that I put more attention and focus on the good things. (I usually already focus sufficiently on the bad things. Even if they aren’t really that bad. More discussion on that to follow.) Writing down the compliments I receive draws my attention to positive things about what I have done instead of focusing so intently on the negative (which I still do more than enough anyway….)
Compliments are pretty interesting and can often say more about the one giving the compliment rather than the one receiving the compliment. I had a friend recently who stated something to the effect that if you give a compliment such as “I really liked your act,” then it is all about the one giving the compliment versus, “That was a great act.” Really, they say pretty much the same thing, which is “In my opinion, your act was great.” Whether I overtly state the ME in the compliment, as the compliment giver, I am making a statement about my personal opinion. Now, I CAN, as a compliment giver, keep compliments to statements of fact; however, I find that most people don’t do that. Statements of fact include: “Your toes were pointed through the whole act,” or “your kicks were above your head.” Note: even statements that may seem factual are often not. Example: “Your kicks are really high.” That is an opinion. High as in comparison to what? “Your gaze in that act was very compelling.” What gaze, where particularly, and compelling to who? I know this is being really specific, but I recently judged a burlesque competition. I made a comment about a particular performer whose act I really enjoyed – it was polished as well as very emotionally charged (in my opinion). Someone else stated that the act “Didn’t do it for them,” and they “didn’t feel connected to the performer.” (their opinion) These were responses of different observers with different opinions – the act was the same. So remember that the comments and compliments you receive (or don’t) are also a reflection of the person giving them – not just a reflection of you.
With all of that said, I often don’t trust other people’s opinions. I mean – why should I? Do I even know you? Well, maybe I know some of you – But, hey! I don’t know all of you… But, even for those of you I do know, my personal biases tell me that other people’s judgment is often clouded or in some way “not” to be trusted. Even my own compliments to others have many different meanings. Does that mean that the person is lying – not necessarily – they could be perfectly honest and just filtering it through a different set of lenses than someone else.
For example, my husband will tell me things like “You are so pretty.” I do not believe him. I do not think I am pretty. I think he says that because he loves me. Because he loves me, I am, therefore, pretty. He is insulted. I suck. Yes, this happens.
Another example: I have a brand new burlesque student. They get on stage for the first time. I tell them that they did a “great job!!” Did they? Well, yes – as a first time performer on stage, they did a great job. I did not lie. But, they are not a world class performer (at least not yet.) If they did the same quality in three years would I still tell them “great job?” Probably not. If they are really good, then I will give them more feedback and, perhaps, even ask them to be in my non-student show. I tell my dance students all the time: “When you are first learning I am going to encourage you more. When you start getting good, I am going to encourage less and criticize more. Know that it is a good thing because it means you are improving and have the capacity to improve more.” In my mind, feedback and criticism are a gift -a gift a lot of people don’t spend the time to give or perhaps even have the capacity to give.
The context and perceived veracity of a compliment has a big impact to me on how much I accept that compliment. One of my teachers and mentors told me after a performance that I did a “great job.” I said “thanks.” Then someone else – a long-time performer – came and told me that I did a “great job.” I was thrilled. I was so thankful and talked to the person about my act. My mentor said “I told you that you did a great job, why didn’t you get excited about my comment?” My response: “You tell everyone they do a great job.” While she may have had a different perception of what that comment meant for me versus a beginner student, as the receiver of the comment, they read the same to me.
Compliments mean more to me when they are specific. To me that shows that the commenter has taken the time to process my act, maybe even has specific standards that they are addressing. For example, “that act was great.” That is nice. Thank you. But much more meaningful: “That act was great. I really liked your fan work – it was very graceful. Your choreography went really well with the music and you had so much energy on stage.” Again – still opinions, but much more specific. I don’t go away with the feeling that “they say that to everyone.” No – those thoughts and opinions were developed just for me, just for that act. It was more than an overall, big picture, cheerleader perspective. It was specific and thought out and intentional.
Do I need to do a better job of just accepting and relishing in comments I am given? Yes, yes I do. I am very bad at that and need to be more accepting of others praise to me. However, I also have to filter my own judgment into the compliment lens because I do not want to get self-satisfied and smug listening to other people’s compliments of me. I want to go further and do more.
It is important to note that criticisms are also potential fodder along with the compliments. Be careful to accept those with a grain of salt, too. Again, opinions are expressed – tat is the nature of criticism. “I hate that act.” Well, that may be because you hate green and I wear all green in that act. The more specific the criticism, the more you can decide whether or not you want to do something about it. Sometimes people just make statements “You had a hard time with that zipper.” Well, yes. Yes, I did. It took me longer than normal. But, so what? Did it ruin the act? Will it happen again? Maybe – live theater happens. It is what it is. It is not a reflection of you or your skill.
With that in mind, be kind to yourself. A lot of people are overly harsh to themselves. Put on your kind audience filter. I am often surprised that mistakes I know happened don’t actually show up when I take off the Red Velvet filter that knows exactly what I planned to do and what the choreography was. When I put on the general audience filter, I don’t even notice the mistake happened. Being professional doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes – we all make mistakes. It just means that you handle it much better – sometimes to the point others don’t even notice the mistake.
So, this is a lot of all over the place. But so are the comments we receive from others AND constantly give to ourselves. Be mindful when you are giving or receiving comments – be they compliments or criticisms – to assess their impact and usefulness on the receiver (Note: that includes YOU the receiver and YOU the giver – why ARE you beating yourself up like that? – I mean it isn’t doing you any good or making you better just to be negative all the time…)