Nigel Reynolds was the first journalist to ever interview J.K.Rowling. The then fledging author gave him a first edition copy of her new book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Unimpressed, he threw it away. They now sell for $40K.
I was in the habit of throwing away something very small that I didn’t know the value of. It took a man named Victor Borge to set me straight.
Victor Borge, originally from Denmark, was a classical pianist. He was also very funny. They called him the Clown Prince of Denmark. He starred in movies with Frank Sinatra. He had his own TV show on NBC.
At the end of his 7-decade career, I was in the first decade of my career and we got to work together very briefly.
He was to be playing this beautiful black Steinway grand piano and I was to be filming him doing it. I was setting up all the lights. I was trying my hardest to make a name in the TV industry.
He said to me, “my boy, can I see the magic you are creating with your lighting?”
Gulp! I set up a screen so he could see the shot I was creating.
“My boy,” he paused, “this is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l. You have a gift.”
Phew! I thought to myself. I responded how I always responded. “Nah, anyone could do this.”
I went to walk away and his hand went on my arm and pulled me up. He spoke.
“Have you ever had an occasion where you wanted to buy someone a gift, and this person was special to you, so you spent a lot of time choosing the gift because you wanted it to mean something special to the person. You wrapped it, just so. You waited and waited, and you chose the right moment to give it. The moment had to be just right?”
Not sure what this was about or my part in it, that he still had his hand on my arm suggested I answer earnestly, if not intelligently. “I think so?”
Victor Borge eloquently continued, “What if they opened it, and just said that’s nice, and pushed it to the side. You’d feel very rejected, right?”
The lively conversationalist in me came back with, “I think so?”
Now he got to the point. “When I am on stage and the audience applauds, this is a gift of gratitude they are giving me, and I graciously accept it.”
I felt his grasp on my arm tighten so I paid attention,
“I just gave you my gift, a compliment for your work, and you crumpled it up, right under my nose, and threw it away by saying, ‘oh it’s nothing.’ My boy, you must learn to accept the gift of a compliment because it’s not about you and your feelings, it’s about them and their feelings. It’s always about them. You have just told me I am a bad judge of character, that I don’t know something of quality when I see it. It’s not what you intended to say, but it’s exactly what you did say.”
It took me a while to understand this. Authentic compliments lift people and give them wings. There are very few things in the world where you can expend such little effort to get a huge effect. A compliment won’t pay the rent but it makes you feel ten foot tall. There is a positive atmosphere created when someone compliments you. It’s like a bubble around both the giver and the receiver full of so much good energy. What you do with this at this very moment can either benefit you or hinder you.
If you simply stop, face the person, look them in the eye, smile and say, “Thank you, you’ve made my day,” then you both get to suck in some of the good energy from this moment. Both parties are validated. A valuable social transaction takes place. This is good for your career.
Are you guilty of this? Someone says “You look great today” and you come back with “Really, I feel like a frump.”
“Great PowerPoint presentation you gave in the meeting, you really have a handle on that argument,” and you trample that thought with “I just knocked that up five minutes before.”
You are doing two things here. You are dismissing the giver’s perception and judgment which makes them wonder will they bother next time? How a compliment is received can invalidate both the giver and the observation that inspired it.
You also bring your cloud of negative self-judgment and rain on a sunny moment. Don’t. This is bad for your career. No one wins.
If you want to learn more about building a strong career strategy that you can take with you throughout your life, come along to one of my workshops. My book Does My Job Suck Or Is It Me? is a like a guidebook for the five decades of your working life.