Workplace Thank-Yous: An Underutilized Power Tool
Workplace Thank-Yous: An Underutilized Power Tool
This article originally appeared on Jhana, our bite-sized online solution for people leaders.
For all the hype about gratitude, most people still don’t say thank you enough at work. A survey by the John Templeton Foundation found that 60 percent of people say thank you at work never or “perhaps once a year” — an underwhelming amount given most people’s natural craving for recognition and validation.
That’s not to say you should thank people like it’s a task on your to-do list, or with an ulterior motive in mind. People will see right through that. Instead, look for opportunities to give genuine, meaningful expressions of gratitude that fit with your management style.
Here are some scenarios in which saying thank you can have a surprisingly large impact, as well as tips for how to say it more effectively.
When to do it:
When someone truly impresses you with his or her performance.
A job well done is the most commonly cited reason to say thank you, and it’s a powerful one. Recognition and positive feedback are big motivators and can help your team be not only happier but also more productive.
For example, in a series of studies by Wharton’s Adam Grant and Harvard’s Francesca Gino, the researchers found that a simple thank you made people significantly more likely to volunteer for extra work. The gratitude, they theorize, makes people feel valued and like their actions have a true impact (read more about the study here).
When someone delivers tough news or redirecting feedback.
Maybe a direct report tells you about a screw up that’s going to impact a client meeting. Or a peer suggests you could benefit from working on your presentation skills. Regardless of the exact scenario, reacting with a simple show of appreciation is more effective than showing anger or frustration. A “thank you” here acknowledges that the other person took the difficult step of sharing news he or she knew you wouldn’t want to hear. It helps ensure that the lines of communication stay open in the future, so you get all the news you need to do your job well, not just the good news.
When you want to defuse conflict.
If you don’t see eye-to-eye with a colleague or have difficulty communicating, try showing some well-placed appreciation. “With difficult relationships it can be especially easy to get caught up on the negatives,” says experienced manager James Burgess. “But one way to improve that relationship is to try to find a meaningful positive, and say thank you for it.” This not only reinforces the behavior you like, but it also helps to bridge any conflict you have with that person by sending the message that you value his or her contributions.
Or say you have two direct reports who don’t get along with each other. In stepping in to defuse that conflict, it can be helpful to start with a thank you, as in “Thank you for your willingness to work on this issue.” This acknowledges that your direct reports are making an effort to deal with a difficult situation and spins emotion in a positive direction, improving your direct reports’ receptivity to resolving the conflict.
When your manager or mentor benefits you.
It’s actually pretty rare for bosses to receive thanks because people are worried about being seen as suck ups. All the more reason, then, that when a manager or mentor has helped you develop or given good advice, you thank him or her for it.
The gesture need not be elaborate. A simple message of a few sentences is all you need to express your sincere appreciation. Bosses and mentors like to know they’ve helped people. And by letting them know you’re keeping them engaged in your progress, and encouraging them to continue helping you in the future.
How to deliver a meaningful thank you:
Have a clear message to explain why you’re thankful.
You could reply to 1,000 emails with “Thanks!” and your first initial, but chances are no one will feel that you recognized their contribution. Instead when you want to thank someone, be specific about what that person has done and why it’s helpful.
Here are a few examples:
“Thank you, Rina. I appreciate the way you took the time to meet with the client without needing any prompting from me.”
“Thank you for telling me about the accounting mistake, Sameer. We will need to explain it in the client meeting, but because you told me early we can fix it in time for the quarterly report.”
If you’re struggling to find the message behind your thank you, that’s a sign it could be an empty gesture.
Select the right time, space and approach.
When receiving feedback, thank yous are best done quickly on the spot. For defusing conflict or working on a difficult relationship, a 1-on-1 meeting or private setting may be best to avoid embarrassing someone with public appreciation.
Even when you’re delivering thanks for a job well done, think about how to give your message greater impact. A breezy “Thanks for last week’s effort” at the beginning of a team meeting will likely be forgotten in 10 minutes as other agenda items take over. Instead, at the end of the meeting, you could say, “I want to stop early so I can say thank you to each of you for last week’s effort,” then call out each team member’s contribution, so they can go back to their desks with positive feelings of appreciation. A different, but equally effective, approach could be hosting a brief happy hour to celebrate the team’s accomplishment.
And when it comes to thanking an individual for a special performance, consider a handwritten note. Emails get archived and conversations fade in memory, but thank you notes can be tucked into desk drawers and revisited.
Save negatives for another time.
Gratitude is not a cure-all that can be lumped in to redirecting feedback to make it go down easier. In fact, wrapping bad news in positives (the sandwich technique) can backfire in several ways, by devaluing your praise or over softening your criticism (or both), and making you seem manipulative. Instead of saying, “Thank you, but…” use your expressions of gratitude when you can give pure and undiluted positive feedback — it will resonate more.