A Crash Course in the Art and Science of “Thank You”

Another cliché post about an attitude of gratitude? No. Dear Reader, you know I’m not that kind of warm and fuzzy person!  However, I am the kind of person to thank you for being here – every visitor, every like, every share is valuable to me.

I mean it!
I mean it!

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful” said the Buddha.

I told you this post wasn’t about gratitude and it’s not, but we need to start there.

Gratitude is basically recognizing that something positive is going on.

As we know, gratitude is linked to better health, happiness, and state of mind, even controlling for personality traits. So while it’s cliché, it’s also truth. It’s lovely. It’s warm and fuzzy, what gratitude does for us.

I promised it wouldn't be about gratitude.
I promised it wouldn’t be about gratitude.

What about when we put that feeling of gratitude out there on display in public? What about when we actually say “thank you” to somebody, or they say it to us?

At the most basic level, “thank you” is a simple form of feedback where you recognize someone’s effort and intent and let the person know it was appreciated. We say “thank you” because we want the other person to know we value the specific action or behavior, and maybe we want to encourage them to do it again.

Grant & Gino did a study in 2010 and found that when someone says “thank you” to us for some small favor, we’re almost twice as likely to help them again.

Why are we so cooperative? It doesn’t generate a warm and fuzzy altruistic feeling like we get from helping an old lady or duck family across a busy street. It’s a little more complex than that.

Just ducky.
Just ducky.

Actually, it’s more than that we appreciate being needed and being competent to offer help – these things are basic human needs. We actually need to be needed and perceived as capable. We’re hard-wired for pro-social behavior and having our effort recognized makes us want more. Take note: so far, this personal gain has not been linked to culture, but I submit that it is.

See, in an individualistic culture – like ours – the prevailing do-it-yourself attitude makes it hard for others to ask for help. So when we actually have an opportunity to help someone, we almost treat it like our 15 minutes of fame. It’s awesome! People get mileage out of their I-helped-someone stories. In a communal culture, we’re expected to help out, so it seems like our effort should maybe be taken for granted. But in the end it’s the same; we’re just as thrilled to be recognized and appreciated.

"Thrilled" might be a strong word.
“Thrilled” might be a strong word.

And when it’s a stranger thanking us, it’s even more powerful! Why? Because we’re naturally more cautious with people we don’t know. It takes a certain amount of trust for you to offer help – maybe the person asking is a kidnapper axe murderer. And it takes just as much trust for a stranger to ask. For all they know, you’re the kidnapping axe murderer!

Now, we’ve had a lovely little social psychology lesson, but there’s a take-away from all of this: a company is known by the people it keeps. How awesome do you feel when the cashier robotically says “thanks for shopping with us and have a great day”? Not all that special, right? Because we all know it’s not sincere. It’s just words.

Such sincere. Much special. Not. (Yes, I know it's not a dog. Dogs don't get thanked by insincere cashiers.)
Such sincere. Much special. Not.
(Yes, I know it’s not a dog. Dogs don’t get thanked by insincere cashiers.)

But what happens if the cashier means it? Shoppers actually feel appreciated. What happens if everyone on staff uses “thank you” sincerely with each other? The office becomes a little more connected. What happens when you use it – sincerely – with your barista? Being recognized as a human being with feelings is nice! (No, it doesn’t mean a thank you replaces tipping. People still have bills to pay.)

“Thank you” is the biggest little thing you can do to generate goodwill and start building better relationships. Trust me, try it – maybe you’ll thank me for it.

And as always, I appreciate your likes, shares, and any comments or questions!

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P.S. Sorry for the late edit. Another blogger and coach has just suggested that “thank you” is overused. Take a look at this post, bearing in mind our basic human need for appreciation. Replacing our thanks with recognition meets one of our needs, but not both. While he has a point, he makes it by suggesting we’re thanking people for minor things, and if so, I’d agree, that’s a bit much. But does that mean we should withhold our genuine expressions of thanks? What are your thoughts?

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Location Maricopa, AZ E-mail Adina@adinawollam.com Hours Monday - Saturday 10am - 4pm MST
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