Stop brushing off praise and learn to take compliments

Saturday February 13 2016

When someone compliments you, allow yourself a

When someone compliments you, allow yourself a wide smile and say, ‘Thank you’. PHOTO | FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Last month, I was introduced to a young woman, a 22-year-old studying biochemistry at the University of Nairobi. This young woman is also a ballerina — yes, I said a ballerina.

I was going through pictures of her during a performance and even though I know little about ballet, I could tell that she was very talented. Moreover, she looked lovely in the photos. I commented: “They are beautiful …”

“Thank you,” she immediately said with a wide smile, sounding pleased and proud.

I was a bit taken aback by her swift and unsuspicious “thank you” because most of the time, compliments embarrass me. They make me uncomfortable.

Every week, I get several emails from readers telling me that they enjoy this column. Once in a while, I also get emails from students studying journalism, telling me that they look up to me and would one day like to write like I do.

I always write back and say “thank you” but, unlike this young woman, my “thank yous” are not as swift nor as assured.

In fact, they are a little hesitant, as if I do not believe that I really deserve the compliments. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I spend most of the 365 days of the year in the same building with tens of talented writers and a couple of witty

columnists whose way with words I admire.


Allow me to explain where I am coming from. The few times a friend or relative has dropped by to see me at work and they happen to spot an NTV newscaster live-live, as we like to put it, they are in awe.

They will breathlessly say something like, “Is that Victoria Rubadiri?” eyes almost popping out in disbelief at their unexpected luck, as if they just got a call from SportPesa.

If this person is in their teens or early 20s, they will almost always post on their social media pages that they spotted this or that “celeb”.

This reaction always amuses me though, to be fair, I am probably not star struck because I either know these newscasters or bump into them daily since we work in the same building. There is also the fact that we are in the same profession. Do you see

where I am coming from?

That explanation aside, though, I have a feeling that most of those who find it difficult to embrace compliments wholeheartedly were raised in an environment where accomplishments were applauded chini chini, under the radar, or not at all. These are the

kind of people who feel that there is something sinful in blowing their own trumpet, or loudly taking credit where it is due.

 I will stop that argument right there because I am beginning to sound like a psychiatrist yet I am not. Allow me, therefore, to talk about what I have observed.

Few of us take compliments at face value. Think about it, how many times have you told someone you know that she is smartly dressed, only for her to say, “Really?” or “Are you sure?” as if they doubt your sincerity?

Or you tell a colleague that her presentation was good, only for her to start reeling off what she could have done to give an even better presentation instead of saying a simple “thank you”?

Or you tell someone you know that they have a lovely house only for them to say something like, “Lovely and the way the paint in the kitchen is peeling? Hii ni stress tupu.” Direct translation: This house is pure stress.

We have this annoying habit of self-deprecation, it is as if we are constantly on standby, waiting for someone to tell us something positive so that we can belittle ourselves.

That 22-year-old revealed to me that there is nothing haughty or egoistic about acknowledging your ability or talent and rejoicing when people notice it and comment positively about it.

It does not matter whether hundreds of others are similarly talented or are more talented than you are. Embrace your strengths, and when someone compliments you, allow yourself a wide smile, promptly say, “Thank you” and revel in the afterglow.



I don’t have a three-year-old yet but your article will prepare me for that stage when it comes. I see in parenting, you have to put yourself in the child’s shoes.



I bet we all had imaginary friends. Tag along in her imagination. It was always fun having your mum remembering and contributing to your imaginations when they popped up. It made them real. May she grow up to know what’s good and right; lies are bad but she will outgrow them. Oride


She’s a lucky girl to have a mother like you... concerned and willing to go that extra mile. You are at that unique position of shaping her destiny since everything about her at this stage is very malleable. Proper parenting isn’t that easy, behind every well brought up child is an exhausted parent. Miano


That’s an interesting one. I may not advice you, I am sure you will get an answer soon and share with us. However, did you know children have a similar behaviour with rats? They react to new things/objects, like a visitor,  and keep a distance, and slowly make acquaintance. Michael          


I have a five-year-old boy. You serve dinner at seven, he eats at nine. Breakfast, no idea... I am out of the house before he eats. Lunch, that is the schools business. Result: He looks like he has a combination of marasmus, pellagra and malnutrition. And the nine-year-old sister? She can eat a full roasted chicken alone in under 30 minutes.           Mwangi


You keep amazing me on your thoughtful articles. I don’t understand whether it is sheer coincidence but whenever I read your articles, I usually find myself in a similar situation.