3 Silly Reasons You Downplay Your Hard Work (and Reject Praise You Deserve)

Good job, Rich!

Oh, um, thanks, it’s no big deal.

You know you’re working hard, but instead of acknowledging the effort you’ve put forth, it just feels natural to tell the people around you that it wasn’t that big of a deal. I know this feeling all too well, and there’s a good chance that I’m deflecting some praise as you’re reading this right now.

But why do you make less of a deal of the herculean efforts you contribute to your team? Based on my experience as a top-notch deflector of compliments, here are the biggest reasons you find it easy to downplay your hard work—and why you should stop.

1. You Think It Makes You Come Across as Humble

For a long time, my default stance was that I wanted to be a team player at all costs, and the easiest way to do it was to downplay everything I did at work. People would come pat me on the back and I’d say, “Oh that little thing? A first grader could’ve done that!”

I thought I was totally crushing the smart, but humble thing. But then someone came over to my desk one day and said, “This whole act of yours is really off-putting some days.”

That person was totally right. And him saying that to my face really woke me up. So I tried something new—I started replying to compliments by simply saying thank you. Remember this: Accepting kudos at work doesn’t make you come across as cocky.

Now, if you do a victory lap around the office every time, well, that’s a different story. And if you’re worried about crossing that line, Muse writer Kat Boogaard shared four ways to accept a compliment without coming off an ego-monster.

2. You Think Everyone Else on Your Team’s Doing It

You wouldn’t be first person to take inventory of how your team behaves on a daily basis and emulate it as closely as possible. But concluding that they’re all deflecting compliments without digging deeper will only make you more prone to shrug your success off as something less.

Of course, you might be completely right about what you’re seeing. But before you start telling everyone you know that your team constantly declines praise, pay closer attention to the way your colleagues communicate with each other.

Are they actually shaking their heads whenever someone pats them on the back? Or are they just not getting the same feedback you’ve received lately. You might just be doing an awesome job and that’s nothing to be shy about.

3. You Don’t Actually Think You’re Doing a Great Job

How many times have you walked around your office and thought, “Geez, I can’t believe I got hired here. Look at what everyone else is doing!” I’m on the record for being the patron saint of impostor syndrome, so I get it. But the truth is that you probably would not be employed at your company if you were this bad at your job.

So spend a few minutes thinking about recent feedback you’ve received. If it didn’t involve the words “performance plan” or “this needs to improve fast,” you’re probably doing A-OK. And that means that the compliments you get are genuine and not some kind of consolation prize for you before you get fired.

I get it—it’s never easy to stand up and say, “Hey, I did a really great job” without feeling like a egomaniac. But it’s also not productive to stand back and let people think you didn’t actually try as hard as you did. After all, you know what it takes to do your job—and you shouldn’t run from the fact that you’re doing awesome work.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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