I received an email today that said “thanks.” That was it.
It was in response to our team accelerating a delivery and meeting an urgent customer need. Maybe two weeks of effort to pull it all together. And while I appreciate the four-second investment that my management contributed to show their appreciation, it doesn’t quite have the intended motivating effect.
Some would say it’s better than nothing.
It’s better than nothing. And nothing is better than sarcastic criticism. And sarcastic criticism is better than a hate-fueled tirade. I could go on, but it starts to get ridiculous…
Just because we can do worse, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for better.
But It’s Your Job!
I can hear the curmudgeons now.
What?! More new age garbage on why I need to constantly reaffirm everyone. In my day, no one thanked me! And I was happy to do the work for the sake of it. Why do I need to start thanking people for doing their job?
Alright, first of all, just calm down. And thanks for not mentioning the fact that you also walked to work. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways.
Next, simply because it’s someone’s job doesn’t mean they don’t deserve appreciation.
Are we that miserable that we can’t bother to let someone know we appreciate their efforts?
And do we really want to reduce ourselves to a transactional lifestyle? One where people take a pay me first mentality? Where everyone expects to do their day’s work for a daily wage and if you want more well then you better pay me more?
That’s the definition of a zero sum life. One in which for us to win, someone else needs to lose. And one where the pie never grows any larger.
The Benefits of Gratitude
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” – William Arthur Ward
There’s no shortage of studies to show the benefits of gratitude. When someone appreciates our efforts, we’re more likely to help again in kind.
Gratitude reinforces our feelings of social worth, reducing the hesitation that our help will actually be appreciated. It also confirms our competence and removes (or at least lessens) the worry that we’ll embarrass ourselves if we try to help. Both aspects encourage us to help again in the future.
In a 2009 study, Francesca Gino and Adam Grant tested the effects of gratitude on future behavior. Not surprisingly, they consistently found that expressions of gratitude significantly increased the likelihood that someone would provide help again. Through four experiments, they demonstrated that individuals who received an expression of gratitude were more likely to help in the future. They also found that future help is not limited to the initial source of gratitude, but spilled over to other beneficiaries.
The other main conclusion is that people were primarily driven to help again based on increased feelings of social worth. While the bestowed gratitude also increased feelings of capability, it was the feeling of social worth that encouraged participants to provide further help in the future.
In other words, relatively small expressions of gratitude consistently return much greater benefits. Benefits that are not limited to the original recipient. And it’s not confidence in our abilities that leads us to help, but the knowledge that our help will be appreciated.
With this knowledge, there’s little excuse for not expressing our appreciation when someone helps us.
Influence by Consistency
But it’s not as simple as just saying “thanks.” Gino and Grant demonstrated that benefits of gratitude are driven by feelings of social worth. And we want to establish within others a feeling of value and belonging. So our message should underscore those points.
Responding to an email with the word “thanks” doesn’t do much to demonstrate social worth. It doesn’t emphasize value. It says, “Yeah, I received it. Now get started on your next job.” It’s almost an afterthought. There’s no appreciation for worth.
If we want to emphasize social worth, we need to demonstrate why we value people’s efforts. Why are we thankful? Was it the thoughtfulness or the initiative that someone showed? What was the impact and how are we better off because of their efforts?
In his seminal book Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini discusses both the internal and external forces that encourage us to behave in a manner consistent with our past commitment. He describes it as being squeezed between an internal pressure to “bring self-image into line with action” and an external pressure to “to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us.”
We adopt a self-image. And we’re driven to act in a manner that further supports it. If I see myself as someone who helps others, I’ll look for chances to demonstrate this behavior. And further promote this self-image.
Select the Best Image
Knowing that individuals will strive to act consistently with their self-image, it’s easy to see how different self-images will create different results. And that different messages of gratitude can create those different self-images.
Consider the following examples. Our goal is to reinforce an image that will drive someone to act in a consistent manner in future situations.
If I tell someone, “Thank you. This helped.” They’ll hear the message that they helped today. And I’ll reinforce a self-image that they’re a helpful person.
Not bad. But is that the best message that we want to leave them with? Maybe, maybe not.
If I tell someone, “Thank you. This improved our recommendation and advanced our credibility with the customer.” They now adopt a self-image of someone who values and represents a commitment to product quality and customer appreciation.
Or if I tell someone, “Thank you. This improved our recommendation and advanced our credibility with the customer. I really appreciate the initiative that you took to identify and resolve this issue.” They now adopt the self-image of someone who looks for opportunities to improve our quality and reputation. Someone who actively pursues a standard of excellence for the company.
There’s no reason to overdo it. Disingenuous gratitude doesn’t add any value. But gratitude is more effective when we provide details of why we’re thankful. When we give the reasons that we value someone’s efforts. And when we reinforce the value they’ll have to others going forward.
Knowing the impact that our gratitude has on others, why would we not offer it?
And if we’re going to offer it, why not take the simple steps to make it most effective?
So thank you for reading this. Your time and attention mean a lot to me. And we need more people like yourself who are committed to showing appreciation. And improving our overall culture.