Develop Your Gratitude Attitude

In an age of perceived entitlement, saying “thank you” graciously often seems to be on the back burner. We live in an era of the increasingly demanding customers, coworkers, and clients. We have a general notion that we deserve to get what we want, when we want it. And to a certain extent, that’s fine—as long as this attitude doesn’t diminish our sense of gratitude when we should express thanks to others and especially to the people who work either for us or with us.

Particularly, executives and managers need to understand the power of demonstrating gratitude to employees, customers, and colleagues.  Often, when one is in a position of power, the temptation is all too pervasive to feel that others are just doing their jobs and their paychecks are sufficient thanks.  Or, the company may have a reward system that “thanks” outstanding employees with bonus checks or other perks, and sometimes leaders feel that a corporate thank you is enough. 

However, many studies show that employees thrive when they feel that their work has meaning and that they matter as individuals.  A sincere, personal thank you from a manager can go a long way not only toward making people feel valued but also in strengthening working relationships.  A leader who sincerely appreciates others’ efforts and lets them know about it will usually see an improvement in morale and loyalty.

 When in Doubt

Saying thank you can take time and effort, and we’ve all probably had lapses in expressing gratitude. Sometimes we might even question whether a “thank you” is really necessary.  Occasionally, it’s hard to know just what response is appropriate. Here are a few gratitude guidelines to consider when expressing thanks in professional situations.

Concern yourself more with substance than form. The issue is not so much the form that the thank you takes as the spirit behind it. Of course, certain guidelines apply. Some situations demand a formal note; other times, a telephone call or an email is sufficient. And a face-to-face thank you where you support your words with strong vocalics and body language can be the most powerful of all.

Today, email and voice mail are acceptable vehicles for thanking people, particularly for business-related intangibles. Just remember that email, for all its efficiency and relative informality, is still written communication. Make sure, however, that you take the same pains with your email thank you as you would with a note written on fine stationery to make it thoughtful and sincere. Remember also that email is never truly private. Keep the tone and content professional.

In some cases, you may want to thank employees as a group—for example ordering pizza for lunch after winning a key account.  Although the blanket thank you is often appropriate, it’s not a substitute for a specific targeted express of appreciation to an individual. 

Do respond quickly and enthusiastically. Whatever form you use, two attributes are critical, whether thanking someone for a kindness, a business lunch, or a job well done: timeliness and enthusiasm. The two actually create a powerful synergy: the more quickly you respond, the more enthusiastic you will be.

In some situations, use the one-two punch. Because a quick response is usually more effective—and appreciated, busy people often find it convenient to make a telephone call immediately (even if you just leave a message) and follow up with a note. The receiver benefits from the strengths of both channels of communication: the richness and spontaneity of the spoken message and the permanence and authority of the written form.

You can also follow up with an oral thank you after you’ve put it in writing.  This response doesn’t have to be part of a formal process; you can simply take advantage of an appropriate occasion. For example, when you next see the person, you can reiterate your appreciation. A spontaneous comment makes employees feel that your thanks are sincere and not just a perfunctory adherence to protocol.

Make your thanks specific. We often tend to be general in our positive responses (“You did a great job”) and painfully specific in negative feedback.  When thanking an employee or a coworker, details will underscore your sincerity.  “Julian, I very much I appreciate you staying an hour later on Friday to help finish the Lawson report.  I know you were eager to start your weekend, but your insightful edits and finishing touches made a huge difference.”

You can also enhance your words with action:  “Next Friday, feel free to leave an hour early.”

Don’t “damn with faint praise.” Respond warmly and enthusiastically when your employees do an outstanding job.  Avoid the temptation to undercut your thanks with an attempt at humor:  “Great presentation, Greg.  Surprisingly engaging for a lawyer!”  Save your good-natured kidding for another time, and keep your sincere appreciation at the forefront.

The Bottom Line

Saying thank you takes time, energy, and focus, and we can easily rationalize that we’re too busy or we don’t know what’s appropriate.  Yet expressing gratitude is a behavior that we can trace back to our childhood, when our mothers admonished us to “say thank you” to someone who paid us a compliment or gave us a gift. 

Gratitude has an important place in our professional lives as well as our personal environments, and leaders who practice expressing thanks will enhance their own credibility and encourage others to follow suit.

Adapted from The Etiquette Edge: Modern Manners for Business Success by Beverly Langford © 2005, 2016 Beverly Y. Langford, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association.