34

I bet it's something many people encounter. In my case, my mother does it a lot. When I moved out and into another city, I got sick and needed a doctor. When I told my mom, she said "Ooh! I'm so impressed you managed to find a doctor all by yourself!"

I planned a vacation with a friend and she said "Wow, I didn't know you could do that!"

It's not only my mom, this might come from anyone who feels superior in a way. "Wow, new employee, you grasped this basic task! Yay!" or "Wow, it's so impressive that a woman knows how to code!" (while talking about the results of a project).

I'm always a bit dumbfounded, if not offended, that they didn't believe I could do this in the first place.

How do I respond to praise for things that I see as trivial?

Note: While I know these things sound sarcastic here, I am very sure they are sincere. They are also roughly translated from German, so it's not the literal wording.

  • 10
    This sounds more like sarcasm than praise, or do people really speak to you this way in a sincere manner...? – user1722 Sep 7 '17 at 10:37
  • 5
    @pete Yes. Yes they mean it sincerely. I could tell if it was sarcasm. Especially of my mom I know she truly believes I cant do these things. – SomeRandomCat Sep 7 '17 at 10:40
  • @pete also, why would someone respond sarcastically about something that isn't the point of the conversation? Like I would talk to someone about machine learning projects and then get paise for knowing how to code. Wouldn't sarcasm be the response if I acted proud about trivial things? – SomeRandomCat Sep 7 '17 at 10:45
  • 1
    @pete definitely. I can see how these can totally be read as sarcastic :) – SomeRandomCat Sep 7 '17 at 10:52
  • 1
    Does the German language have the ancient English convention of (take your pick between modesty or dismissiveness) "It was nothing, really"? – Beanluc Sep 8 '17 at 21:53
34

Sounds like three questions rolled into one to me.

To your mom you could say (a little tongue-in-cheek but served with a genuine smile and appreciation): "It looks like you raised me to become an independent, self-reliant member of society. Thanks for that!" (At least I hope that's true.)

To your new colleagues you could say "Thanks! I'm eager to try something more difficult now, do you have a task for me?" It may have nothing to do with expecting little of you personally and more with the general level of employee incompetence this person has seen in his/her work life. (If somebody had told me the things I was to see in the workplace at the beginning of my worklife, I would have not believed them and considered it an exaggerated silly parody.)

For the person who is astonished that girls/women can code I would recommend silence and a raised eyebrow, together with an appalled "Where did that come from?" facial expression. That is such a backhanded "compliment" that it doesn't warrant a (verbal) response.

  • 5
    I think that last paragraph is a bit out of place. Finding a woman that code is rare not because they can't, but because they usually don't choose that path of life. I wouldn't be offended if someone showed surprise regarding my hair-braiding or knitting skills - those aren't the things you expect from a guy. Keep in mind that there is a barrier language there - probably what was said was more in the spirit of "Wow, it's rare to find a girl that codes!" than "I didn't think women were able to program". – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Sep 8 '17 at 17:29
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    Guys, I'll make it short: I don't intend to change my last paragraph. You can explain to me why you as a man wouldn't be offended or why you wouldn't feel ostracised - but, let's face it: you're very likely not in the same situation. You can think women should single-handedly fight sexism with friendliness and understanding... But, truth be told, that's too much to put on a young woman starting out at the bottom of the totem pole in her company. I think she get's to take a break from healing the world if she wants. And she'll (slightly) change peoples' views just by being there anyway. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 9 '17 at 12:04
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    @AllTheKingsHorses Eh, males can get a lot of sexism too, more so if your wife happens to be the main breadwinner of the house (as in my case). I am in a not-so-common situation being the one that has more flexible work hours to be able to pick up the kids at school or being the parent present at the school meetings. Sometimes other people show genuine surprise, sometimes they show sexist attitudes. There is a big difference between them and mixing them up in the same bag doesn't help. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 10 '18 at 17:28
22

With my mother, I have replied "and I dressed myself today, and ate all my peas!" A similar idea with friends. "I also made toast this morning without any help from anybody!"

If possible find a humorous retort delivered as a joke that gently emphasizes their praise was condescending.

7

Personally, I would take them as sincere praise.

In my experience, not everyone has as easy a time managing to do activities and tasks that in a lot of cases it may warrant praise. From what I can tell, you're taking these as if they were sarcastic and not accepting the genuine praise that someone is giving you. There is really no need to make it into a bigger issue than it is and taking the praise as a compliment on your development costs you nothing. This may be different for the German culture though, so keep in mind that this advice is coming from the US.

An example of this is at my current workplace where I work as an analyst, and am seen as an Excel expert. Things as simple as making a button in VBA to switch the data source on a chart blows people away, and even though it may take me 5 minutes to write (including comments, explanation, and other things), for them it's an insurmountable task that they never would have been able to do on their own.

From my perspective it's their way of thinking that leads them to believe it's not possible, and you, having overcome these obstacles waaaay in the past, now find it trivial. Unless there's sarcasm involved (in which case the question is completely different), I don't think you really should do anything but respond with a heartfelt thank you.

Something I learned after struggling through my later teenage and early adult years is that difficulty is completely subjective, so take any and all praise that is given sincerely well, and just remember that even though you think something is hard now doesn't mean you will in the future.

  • 2
    I was just going to post something like this, but @Anoplexian said it so much better. Assuming, as you say, that you believe these responses to be non-sarcastic, then the most likely explanation is that what seems trivial to you doesn't seem so to them. They are offering honest praise (perhaps not the 'girls can code?' fellow) to which the correct response is "thank you." – JesseM Sep 7 '17 at 18:57
  • @JesseM Even then, they may be astounded because of the time period they were raised in that a woman could code (gasp!). Granted, it shouldn't exist in this day and age, but that doesn't mean that it's not an innocuous statement made by someone who just didn't grow up with the same culture as the civilized world is used to by this point. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '17 at 21:22
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    I don't think that the examples in the question are actually perceived as difficult by the other person though and that the given praise is quite patronizing. Also some persons are simply gives praise for even trivial tasks because that's what they learned in some management training workshop. Anyway if the praise is not heartfelt or you think other person knows it was an easy task, is a heartfelt thanks you still the right choice? Wouldn't it be better to respond with an indifferent thank you, so that they won't think that the task was actually hard for you? – kapex Sep 8 '17 at 9:42
  • @Kapep No, because it's easy to tell the difference. Rather than treat it like they don't mean it or are being patronizing, brush it off and treat it like they're serious and actually think you accomplished something amazing. It's more about ignoring any of the negative meanings they're adding to it (whatever they may be), and taking the actual thank you to heart. If they say something further about "it not being worthy of my praise" sort of thing, then you can say something along the lines of "maybe you should be more careful about what you actually say then....". Just don't presume to know. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Sep 8 '17 at 14:26
6

My mother is like that too. I am 28-years old and my mother always treats me like I am a 5 year old (I am Indian). I moved to the US in 2013. The first two years of me being in college, she still spoke to me like that. The worst part is, sometimes, it is a compliment for a trivial task. Sometimes, it is criticism of an obviously correctly performed task.

Like you mentioned, this is purely showing their superiority over you. "You are still a child, I've done this very task a thousand times. I am going to assume you haven't because, you're just a child" is the belief behind this. So how do you go about responding to this?

  1. To your mom: When this behavior started frustrating me, I sat down one day and wrote a LONG email. The email contained my experiences in life and all the stuff I've been through and come out of, without her help. The last paragraph of the email was, "I know you care about me and want the best for me, but this is something I know how to handle. I am a grownup and have been through stuff that has trained me for this exact situation. I analyze and think before doing something. I appreciate your honest feedback about all the things I do, but I think I am doing the right thing. Compliments or criticisms are not required unless I ask for it". This is of course because of my mom's behavior to criticize things I did. I was pretty frustrated. Your situation, your mom genuinely considers you her little baby. She doesn't think you're stupid (like mine did). So an email in this style might come off as rude. I'd suggest maybe sitting down with her and having a one-on-one conversation. NOT about this issue, just an ADULT one-on-one conversation. About politics or languages or cultures or something like that. Make her feel like you've grown. She'll slowly stop doing that if you have one mature adult conversation with her.
  2. To your coworkers: The general reason behind it is the same as your mom. But dealing with it has to be COMPLETELY different. Every time I joined a new job, I went through that. I almost always succeed in not going through it after being there for a month.
    Here is how I do it: AFTER the first month (not when you're still new), start telling your coworkers something in the lines of:

    "Oh yeah I remember doing it in my last job(or earlier this month in this job, whichever applies)"

    "Yeah I've had to do this so many times. Its funny, this one time when I was doing this... (add a random fake funny incident so the coworker DEFINITELY hears you say that you've done this enough to have stories to tell about it)"

    "Didn't I do this last week? I don't remember how this part we... OH WAIT! I do now! I did this, and this and this! Yay I still remember! :)

Please remember to be GENUINE to your coworkers. It SHOULD not come off as "Jeez what a jerk". With a bubbly peppy smile on your face, anything you say is believable and adored. After a while, they will start telling you how "You've really grown over the past few months" or how "you've learned the job quickly". It is insulting, but it is better than a lifetime of "good job kitty, you pooed in the litter box".

Hope this helps! :)

  • 1
    Sollid advice coming from experience, @Crazy Cucumber! I upvotes. – English Student Sep 8 '17 at 9:11
3

"Wow, it's so impressive that a woman knows how to code!"

Let's brush off the über-sexist comment about how women can't code and focus on the core issue here:

You seem to have above average intelligence. Perhaps much above average. Good for you!

How do I respond to praise for things that I see as trivial?

It's all about perspective. You see these things as trivial because you are smart... but other people might view these trivial things as problems, ranging in difficulty from mild to hard, perhaps even impossible.

It is also not just about intelligence, experience also come into play. For example, the other day I went to see my doctor about something that, from my perspective, was really worrying. I mean, some kind of tiny tentacle was growing out of my skin. So he looks at it for a half second and says "Yeah it's just a skin polyp, it's gonna fall off before next week." So I thanked him, but from his perspective, he's probably already seen hundreds of those and is just doing his job. The thing did fall off, and I'm back to my handsome self.

The modern world is very complicated. If you are familiar with something, like a piece of tech, a programming language, or maybe you play the violin like a boss, then someone else who can't will think you're some kind of space alien goddess and bow. Maybe they also can do things that would make you stand back in awe. Who knows.

So, just accept praise as praise, even if it is said in really weird ways. No need to raise conflict when there is no need for it.

2

Whether it is sarcastic, or not, the simple way to respond is to just say, "Thanks," and move on. Don't rise to it. If you start treating it as trivial then perhaps your mother will begin to realise that you routinely do things which may have seemed challenging to her.

  • It looks as though these responses were sincere and not sarcastic as we assumed. – user1722 Sep 7 '17 at 10:52
  • As I said in the comment, I am very sure its not sarcasm. I know especcially my mom honestly doesnt believe I can do these things. – SomeRandomCat Sep 7 '17 at 10:53
  • @rory They already arent the original wordings because I had to translate them from german... – SomeRandomCat Sep 7 '17 at 10:56
  • Edited - the response I suggest is still an appropriate way to accept the compliment – Rory Alsop Sep 7 '17 at 10:57
  • Second half, thats the point, me doing these things isnt even the topic of the conversation. When I say "I'm gonna travel with person X to location Y, its gonna be awesome!" and then get praise for being able to book a journey its not like I asked for it, right? Another exsmple is in the question comments~ – SomeRandomCat Sep 7 '17 at 11:26
1

I would briefly reply with an explanation of what I heard when the other person "praised" me. The focus is on me and on conveying my interpretation and feelings. This is to avoid blaming the other person for a statement they might not have meant -- or at least could claim not to have meant.

When you say it's great that I can find a doctor on my own, I somehow feel as if you think I'm still a little child.

1

For your parents you are always 5 years old. It will take a lot of time till they accept that you can live on your own. This is not because they don't think you can, but because they did that for such a long time, that they became used and especially dependent on it. For them tutoring you makes them feel useful.

Any person that doesn't feel useful feels bad in some way. For them you are the most important matter in the universe, everything else comes second. So if they don't feel useful to you, they will feel bad about it, no matter how stupid it might sound to you.

You can speed up things a little if you for once make sure they still feel loved and useful, by letting them do things you know they like to help you with (my dad for example loves installing electric equipment like lamps, so I invite them occasionally when such things arise). On the other hand gently mention that you are now old enough to stand on your own feet. Eventually your parents will understand and accept that they need to let you go, especially if they know that you are not going too far away (symbolically speaking).

When your friend praises you for simple tasks, then she is most likely amazed, because she doesn't know how to do that, or thinks it is very difficult. In this case it is more like a compliment, and you could answer things like "Of course I can, I am a professional!" with a smile. But be prepared to then be the expert for doing such things for the rest of your future. ;)

During work, especially in the IT business, some people have not yet fully understood that women are (now officially) equal to men. 50 years ago even a woman would have agreed that they can't do certain tasks, because it was the common opinion. Those people still are in those companies and often treat women less, simply because that's what they have been taught to do.

If younger co-workers treat you like that, they might feel threatened by you taking away 'the last bastion of man-kind', if you demonstrate superior skill in a certain area they might feel weak because of that (men in general don't like to feel weak), or they are simply mocking you, because men like to communicate a bit more aggressive and provocative. In all cases that's their problem and not yours, so make sure to notice in an appropriate way that you don't like to be threatened like this. And if everything else fails: tell your superior. Just don't get too overzealous, you might have to work with these people for a while longer.

As a summary: act against that common misconception if it annoys you, but don't take it too personal, as in most cases people actually admire you for what you can do.

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