Why It’s A Problem When You Say, “Oh, it was nothing.”

What if you have already learned how to give amazing recognition? You are a great observer of catching people doing things right. When you find someone and their actions merit recognition, you seem to express recognition just the right way.

And then, somehow, it all falls flat when the recipient of your recognition says something like, “Oh, it was nothing!”

Negating positive words of recognition from people is a problem. This is something you should stop. Follow these ideas to help limit this negativity. 

Why Negative Responses Happen 

First off, why do people exclaim a pessimistic and unfavorable comment. 

More often than not, people just don’t know what to say. You have given them unexpected and positive words of commendation. They may not be used to being praised. Human nature has us minimize our accomplishments. Our own self-esteem may be on the low side. 

People deflect recognition because they don’t believe they have done something good. 

Why Negative Comments Are A Problem 

Receiving negative comments can influence the recognition giver to stop recognizing people. It can undermine their confidence and abilities in acknowledging and praising colleagues. If you do nothing to stop this, it can run rampant.

Negative comments negatively reinforce recognition from ever happening. 

This must cease. 

Have Your Comebacks Ready

My recommendation is to be prepared with some great comebacks to negative comments.

When people say to you, “Oh, it was nothing,” I remind them that if it really was nothing, I would have said nothing. I tell them let’s start this over again from the beginning. I teach the person after I recognize you, just say, “thank you!” Sometimes, I even tell them after they say “thank you” to zip the lips. Say nothing else!

There are plenty of other negative or weak responses you might get. Whenever you sincerely praise a person, acknowledge their work, or thank them for something, be on the lookout for these rebuttals.

You might have heard lines like, 

“Don’t mention it.” 

“That’s all right.” 

“Not at all.” 

If someone says to you, “Don’t mention it,” after you recognized them appropriately, they are telling you not to say anything about the great things they are doing. It reflects where their head is at, and their emotions.

Teach them to learn to accept recognition graciously. Recognition is a gift that you have just given them. Ask them what they say to people after they receive a gift. Of course, they will mostly say, “thank you.” Tell them that’s what they should do whenever someone recognized them. Thank them for their verbal or written gift.

You want to mention their amazing contributions in order for them to keep doing it. If others hear the expression, you want the individual to feel pride and acceptance.

For someone who responds with “That’s all right,” it is minimally on the negative side. It’s still not the best reply. Always be teaching and helping people give a more positive response.

And with the line “Not at all,” they don’t even know what they are saying. They are trying to negate the comment, but they’re doing it politely. Bottom-line, get everyone to remove saying negative comments after they receive recognition. 

Positive Responses To Well Deserved Recognition 

There are the short and sweet comments that you can use until you gain confidence as a positive responder, like: 

  • “Thanks.”
  • “Thank you!”
  • “Thank you, [insert recognizer’s name].”
  • You can even say, “You’re welcome,” when it fits.

Begin using phrases that use the first person so that your replies are more personal. 

  • “I really appreciate you saying that.”
  • “I am grateful for your kind words.”
  • “I enjoyed working on the project.” 

And you can give genuinely warm and positive responses. Something like,

  • “Your words mean a great deal to me.”
  • “It was hard work, but it was worth it.”
  • “This recognition is important to me.”

For these comments, you can precede or conclude with those magical words, “Thank you!” anytime you want. 

Be an encourager of helping recipients of recognition become positive receivers. Teach them the importance of positively reinforcing every expression and communication of recognition they receive. 

I appreciate you doing that for everyone in your organization. 

(This is where you say, “Thank you!” or “You’re welcome!”) 

Recognition Reflection: Are you actively teaching leaders and staff to positively receive recognition?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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