What would you say if I told you that there was a totally free, always available way you could multiply your own productivity as well as increase the efficacy of your volunteer’s time and efforts, grow and retain team rosters, better everyone’s mood by improving your work environment, insure your superiors are happy, all while deepening personal relationships? Sounds too good to be true? Nope, this is for real. This works!
What could this magical tool be? It’s a simple, heartfelt “thank you.”
In a TED Talks presentation by Dr. Laura Trice the doctor described her work as an addiction specialist at a rehab facility. She said, “I get to see people who are facing life and death with addiction. And sometimes it comes down to something as simple as, their core wound is their father died without ever saying he’s proud of them. But then, they hear from all the family and friends that the father told everybody else that he was proud of him, but he never told the son. It’s because he didn’t know that his son needed to hear it.”
Some of those reading this article are from churches who counsel couples experiencing marital issues. Think of how many couples wind up in counselling after twenty-five years of marriage? Consider how many husbands working long hours year after year long to hear their wife say, “Thank you for being a breadwinner so I can spend more time with the kids.” Or the wife, with her own career, her remaining time spent busily running errands, taking the kids to soccer or dance class, chauffeuring back and forth to church youth group meetings, etc.; all while feeling she is losing her own identity, desperately looking for affirmation from her husband. Their desires for validation, recognition, expressions of gratitude are not unique. Noted in an University of Georgia study, “We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last.”
Psychologists tell us that people will make extraordinary sacrifices if they also perceive their efforts are effective advancing a common goal. Researchers Adam M. Grant and Francesco Gino of Wharton and Harvard Business School respectively studied the impact of a sincere “thank you” in the workplace. Their research concluded a 50 percent increase in effort and productivity could be achieved simply as a result of expressions of appreciation! In one of their studies a manager personally thanked half of his staff for their contribution to the company. This simple act resulted in a 50% increase in sales calls from the salespeople who received affirmation.
Grant and Gino state, “Psychologists have argued that the pursuit of social worth— a sense of being valued by others — is a fundamental human motivation. When individuals experience social worth, they feel that their actions matter in other people’s lives, which confers a sense of belongingness. Social worth fulfills the desire to be needed by others … one expression of communion. When individuals experience social worth, they feel needed, cared about and valued by others, which signifies an interpersonal bond or positive relationship.”
If affirming helpers work, showing gratitude saying “thank you” is as easy and effective as it seems, why don’t more people make a practice of it? Grant and Gino suggest, “… beneficiaries often reject the offers of helpers, leaving helpers feeling spurned, angry, and reticent to offer help again.” Sometimes beneficiaries fear help received will result in feelings of incompetence, helpless or powerlessness. “Expressions of gratitude signify that a beneficiary values, needs, appreciates and accepts one’s assistance rather than rejecting or devaluing it. Gratitude expressions provide concrete evidence that helpers’ actions matter in the lives of beneficiaries, thus satisfying helpers’ basic motives to feel valued. When helpers feel valued, they become more motivated to help because they feel their actions will improve the well-being of beneficiaries. Feeling valued encourages prosocial behavior by reducing the helper’s uncertainty about whether beneficiaries will welcome assistance. Thus, we propose that when beneficiaries express gratitude, helpers will feel more socially valued, which will motivate helpers to engage in prosocial behavior.”
Saying “thank you” however is not only beneficial to those helpers who receive affirmation but is also profitable (beyond increased productivity) to those beneficiaries who express gratitude and give affirmation to others. According to Philip Watkins, Ph.D. at Eastern Washington University, “Gratitude is a psychological amplifier of the good in one’s life.”
Lisa A. Williams, Lecturer at the School of Psychology, UNSW Sydney Australia and Monica Y. Bartlett, Gonzaga University carried out a study where the researchers asked 70 undergraduate students to participate in a pilot program mentoring high-school students. The undergraduates’ assignment was to offer advice regarding their high-school student’s college admissions writing sample. As such, Williams and Bartlett satisfied a foundational starting point for gratitude; the granting of help, resources or a favor. A week later the undergraduate mentors all received a note from their high-school student mentee. Half of the undergraduate mentors – the control group – received the following, “I received your feedback through the editing program. I hope to use the paper for my college applications.”
The other half of the undergraduate mentors received notes which also included an expression of gratitude, “Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”
All 70 undergraduate mentor participants received a note – just the content of the note differed.
The researchers then gave the undergraduate mentors the opportunity to write a personal message to their high-school student mentee, to be received should the mentee be accepted for admission at the university they applied at. The question Williams and Bartlett sought to answer was – would participants take the opportunity to establish a social relationship with their mentee? And would their response be dependent on whether the mentee had expressed gratitude or not?
All but three undergraduate mentor participants wrote a welcome note to their mentee. All three mentors who didn’t write a note were in the control group who did not receive a “thank you.” Of the undergraduate mentors who had received a note expressing gratitude from their mentee, 68% offered the mentor’s contact details whereas only 42% of those who had received the control note responded similarly. The difference was statistically significant.
The importance of gratitude and expressing thankfulness should be no surprise to Christians. The Bible calls us to be thankful (Colossians 3:15 & 4:2). In fact, the word translated as “thankful” in our English Bibles is the word “eucharist,” meaning mindful of favors, grateful, liberally beneficent. And while many of these verses describe a believer’s thankfulness as directed to God, other verses prescribe a believer’s thankfulness directed to and for men (1 Titus 2:1).
“There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” – Proverbs 12:18
I recall a show I was doing at the East Room in the White House. Such events are typically formatted to allow a smaller reception in the White House’s Green, Blue or Red room for VIPs to meet the President prior to the event which will occur in the East Room. Then after the event in the East Room there is typically another larger reception in the State Dining Room for other attendees. When the post-event reception in the State Dining Room was over and all the attendees had left, the tech crew was still striking equipment and loading-out from the East Room. Before retiring for the night upstairs, the President came in to the East Room and personally shook the hand of each utility person, lighting tech, audio assistant and stage-hand. He posed for photographs with his arm around crew member’s shoulders and expressed thanks to everyone who assisted with the event no matter what their role was.
The most successful entertainment-industry executives I know understand the importance of affirmation, gratefulness and finding special ways to express thankfulness. An Executive Producer on many Garth Brooks and Billy Joel television and video projects comes to mind. While other Executives will delegate the calling of crew members to find out their availability to a production assistant, this Executive Producer always makes these calls himself. One day I asked him why? He answered, “I want everyone I work with to know how much I value them and how important this project is to me and the artist.” That’s something for those in the church world to consider as it becomes increasingly difficult to get volunteers to respond to Planning Center.
Another executive comes to mind. He passed away a few years ago and so I would like to honor him here by mentioning him by name. Record producer Phil Ramone (co-founder of A&R Records, engineer, 34 Grammy nominations and 14 wins) understood the value of a thank you. Here is a note he attached to a pay check I received. Is there anything anyone would not do for a gentleman as considerate as this?
A sincere thank you offered verbally is nice, however expressing gratitude in more tangible or creative way will serve to make a lasting impression, like this card from Phil Ramone I’ve kept and cherished.
Creativity and thoughtfulness can make a lasting impression as well. Andrew Griffiths sends vendors, customers and associates baskets containing chocolate, headache tablets, earplugs, coffee, No Doze, a book of jokes, almost anything inexpensive yet thoughtful. He follows these guidelines, “Put some thought into the gift; make it personal. Wherever possible have some fun with it. It’s not about the amount you spend, it’s about the relevance of the gift. And always include a note saying how grateful you are for their help and support.”
In this day and age of emails, tweets and texting, a hand written note expressing thanks to someone is probably the most impactful thing you can do. It doesn’t need to be long, keep it concise. But always touch on the following points: (A) what the problem was that needed a solution. (B) how the person helped solve the problem. (C) what end-result is now achieved due to the person’s service.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
William Arthur Ward
Title photo attribution – Bart Maguire