This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

I watched a senior leader do something unintentionally trust-diminishing the other day. The hardest part about it was seeing myself in him. I wonder if you might see yourself as well.

He’s a distinguished leader with a decades-long record of career success. He’s confident as well as humble. Super smart while also being totally approachable. A great combination of easy-going and well-prepared. In short, he’s delightful.

He’s also lousy at accepting a compliment.

He came to speak to a group I was leading about his experience of walking the trusted advisor talk in their organization. He was organized. Thoughtful. Funny. Candid. Present. I just couldn’t help but notice that every time anyone said something complimentary in the course of the conversation (including me), he deflected it—without fail.

Sure, he deflected gracefully and usually with a joke, but swiftly and unmistakably. He was masterful. And it was such a buzz kill to be on the receiving end because there was no way to contribute to someone I really wanted to acknowledge for being … well, delightful.

I’m always giving my husband Alan a hard time for dismissing the nice things I say about him. Of course, as a dear friend said to me the other day, “If you spot it, you got it.” I’m sure I’m equally guilty with colleagues, not to mention clients.

What’s so bad about keeping your ego in check, you ask? Absolutely nothing. Only this isn’t that. This is killing off intimacy by failing to recognize that a compliment isn’t only about you; it’s also about the person who’s attempting to show appreciation for you.

There’s a balance to be struck, of course. Make it too much about you and you fail the arrogance test. On the other hand, combine a little genuine self-deprecating humor with an ability to really hear the good stuff, and you become a role model for strength and vulnerability combined.

Make It Real

This week, practice simply saying “Thank you,” followed by a pause, when someone pays you a compliment. Really take it in. What do you notice?

Learn More

Read more about how to be a self-deprecating horn-tooter, or brush up on why self-knowledge is essential for building trust in Chapter 10 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).