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The Power of Thank You

At the end of a long and productive team meeting, the CFO asked me (the consultant) to offer the group some observational feedback. After making a few very specific remarks about the team’s behavior that was helpful and one or two things that needed continued improvement, I turned to one of the VPs around the table and said, “Mark, I especially want to thank you for managing your inclination to get stuck in the details. You did a great job of getting yourself out of the weeds. It was quite noticeable and helpful for the discussion today. Thanks.”

This prompted Mark to spontaneously say, “Wow. I can’t remember the last time I was thanked for my efforts.” The rest of the team jumped into this conversation with everyone complaining about the lack of gratitude they experience on a daily basis. The CFO tried his best not to be defensive and he promised to try harder to say thank you.

But I took the conversation into a less leader focused direction. “Why are all of you assuming this is only George’s (CFO) responsibility? Do you folks thank each other?” They got my point. When they asked my opinion about why this happens I offered up, “Look, we all know that we are supposed to say please and thank you. It’s not like anyone needs to tell us that. But in the heat of the daily action, we simply forget. And if no one is saying thank to us, we tend not to say it to others. Vicious cycle. But I cannot emphasize enough the importance of acknowledging people’s contributions and efforts. It is such a small thing to say that pays off in big ways.”

This scene has played out in nearly every client encounter over many years. With all the organizational trends coming and going over time, saying thank you has not made it to the list. Sure, sure, “showing appreciation” is on every stated values presentation. But nobody takes it seriously. It is one of those “soft, nice to have, yadda yadda” items that everyone ignores.

That is why this article caught my eye.  I’m not advocating in this blog that people or organizations should start their own 100thanks journals or intranet sites or any program whatsoever. I’m more captured by the notion of saying thank you out loud, routinely, to those who deserve your gratitude, sincerely. To make “saying thank you” a corporate directive is just so wrong on so many levels that I can’t go there. But the idea that we just don’t take time to think of all the things that happen in a day that are good is valid…and sad. Our world and our organizations are so problem focused that we have all become (by degrees) negative and pessimistic.

But imagine stopping once a day (say, moments before you snarf down that sandwich at your desk that you refer to as a lunch break) and asking yourself, “What was the best part of my day so far? Who helped make that happen?” Even if your answer is, “When my spouse called just to say I love you” or “I got that report done”, say thank you out loud to your spouse or yourself.

There needs to be a sequence of events here. First, stop racing around physically and/or mentally. Second, genuinely respond to the question: what has been the best part of my day. Third, identify the object/s of your gratitude. Last, say thank you to that person. Face to face is always best but emails are a close second. Hand written thank you notes are unexpected gifts that employees keep for years. They are shoved into their desks and moved with them to the next company. It would be great if we could all write those notes but I understand what happens in the real world.

Personal story: In the process of buying a home lots of little things kept going wrong. (No news there) I relied on my lawyer to do battle for me. In spite of her best efforts, I had episodic freak outs. At least once every other week I placed a frantic call to her that did not show off my best behavior. Each time she talked me off the ledge and I was calm for another couple weeks. Once all the papers were signed I wrote her a detailed thank you email. I gave very behaviorally explicit examples (can’t take my work hat off some days!) of the great things she had done and how much I appreciated her efforts. On move-in day a beautiful bouquet of flowers showed up from her. When I saw her a couple weeks later she told me that, in all her years as an attorney, she had never before sent any client flowers. I, of course, thought the flowers were just her way of being a class act. When I asked her why she felt moved to do this she replied, “Because you sent me the most wonderful thank you I’ve ever received. My clients are always appreciative but no one ever told me in such detail what it was that I did that was so noteworthy. You even pointed out some things that I wasn’t even aware of. I have that email in my saved folder.” Something that was a no-brainer for me was an unexpected and unusual moment for her.

My suggestion is simple. Make saying thank you a habit; something you don’t have to think about. Within a very short period of time you will see the ripple effect. Those who receive your gratitude will have a spring in their step and work hard to please you again. They will feel so good that it will remind them they should pay it forward. And if two people say thank you…(with deeply felt thanks to Arlo Guthrie)

“And if three people do it! Can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’
A bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an

And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . .
Walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? Friends,
They may think it’s a MOVEMENT.”

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