The forgotten craft of a thank you

Coaching

18th September, 2018

I received a message this week from a client I worked with two years ago. It was a note saying thank you. They had an important presentation coming up and used their learning from our programme to help them prepare. They wanted me to know how that experience was still having an impact for them and that they remain grateful. As you might expect, this made me smile and gave me an amazing feeling. It also got me wondering about the forgotten craft of a ‘thank you’.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this article that saying ‘thank you’ is a good thing, right? It is a sign of our gratitude for someone’s gesture or efforts. It is a sign of encouragement for the things we want them to keep doing or even do more often. And it can be a pointer to other people of the actions or behaviour you value and can influence them to behave in the same way.

What the expert says

Delivered authentically, a good ‘thank you’ will make the other person feel happy. They will experience a release of dopamine and serotonin, that is. Here is the kicker: the person delivering the message will experience the same release of hormones. In the words of world-renowned expert on positive psychology from Harvard University, Shawn Achor:

“Happiness gives us a real chemical edge on the competition. How? Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centres of our brains to higher levels.”

“A quick burst of positive emotions doesn’t just broaden our cognitive capacity; it also provides a quick and powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our focus and our ability to function at our best level.”

As a parent I taught my children to say ‘thank you’. I thought of this as an important part of bringing up well-mannered and well-behaved children. For a leader, I think of the very same act as an equally important way of impacting the culture and performance of an organisation. When people feel appreciated for their efforts, clear on what good behaviour looks like and feel certain they make a difference, they will be more successful.

Why do we forget?

Over the past seven years I have asked hundreds of leaders if they are satisfied with the amount of praise offered in their organisation. When they stop and reflect, almost everyone says there are definitely opportunities to improve. So why does it appear that we don’t do it nearly as much as leaders?

I believe there are three reasons:

For starters, there is an ever-increasing demand for our time and focus. The urgent problem that needs to be fixed right now. Then straight on to the next meeting for which you are already late. Then catch up on emails. It is really easy to miss the opportunity for a deserved thank you.

Secondly, if we don’t need praise ourselves, or we have learned to live without it because we don’t get it from our own boss, it falls off our radar too. The cause is seldom a lack of appreciation; it is simply that everyone thinks that nobody needs it. Everybody does need it, now and again.

Finally, it has not been made an important part of the organisation’s culture. We have to articulate a clear belief that gratitude and appreciation are part of the formula for success and performance. Then as leaders we must go first and model the way.

Five ways to turn a ‘thank you’ into a craft

  • Keep it simple! Ken Blanchard suggests it should normally take less than a minute. It is important to emphasise what you noticed and let them know what that means to you. It will have impact.
  • Do it when it matters! Do it for a specific reason or it will appear phoney. That may mean doing a little research or observation first.
  • Do it like it matters! Make sure you are in a great state of mind so the person experiences your genuine appreciation.
  • Vary your approach! Repeatedly using the same approach will quickly lose impact and meaning. The key is to vary your methods regularly. Sometimes a pat on the back is sufficient, other times a card, an email, an award, an early finish, a voucher, delegating extra responsibility …the list is endless.
  • Just do it! And do it more often. Set a personal target of thank yous per week or put a daily reminder in your calendar to ensure it stays in your focus.

When leaders on our courses commit to saying ‘thank you’ more often, offering genuine and quality praise, they always come back to the next module with inspiring stories. What stands out is that these examples will relate to employees at every level of an organisation, from front-line employee to CEO. I have even heard stories relating to suppliers and contractors, who were deserving recipients of a thank you. Most report how surprised they were by the positive impact that moment had on the individual, their future relationship and performance.

When my client wrote to me this week, I wouldn’t imagine they thought it would inspire this article. They wouldn’t know I had shown it to my son, while we were chatting about his career choices and the importance of continuous learning. Nor would they know I would file it in a folder entitled ‘Why I do what I do’ to read again in the future. (Until now of course!)

My point is that we often don’t fully appreciate the impact one well-placed ‘thank you’ can have, or understand the ripple effect that follows. That’s why we should keep the craft of a thank you alive.

Call to action:

  • Look out for the opportunities to say ‘thank you’ and go for it
  • Check out Shawn Achor on TED.COM here or his books here
  • Get in touch to discuss our approach to Engaged High-Performance at brian@twentyoneleadership.com

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