Strengthen Your Relationships With a Sincere, Unsolicited “Thank You”
How can something as simple as a “thank you” produce positive feelings, strengthen relationships and improve productivity? My neighbour Ryan helped me to reflect on this as well as why “thank you” is a cornerstone of strong relationships.
Ryan is as energetic as he is curious and lately, he’s been making good progress perfecting his manners. He and his mother leave for preschool each morning and it’s not unusual for me to hear their chatter as they exit the house. In the less- than- a- minute that it takes to get into the car, I hear any combination of questions, singing, bursts of tears and giggles. What I heard the other day made me smile and reflect on why “thank you” never gets old.
As they stepped out of their house I heard Ryan say to his mother in the clearest and sincerest of voices, “Thank -you mommy.” Each word was so deliberate, as if to emphasize just how incredibly grateful he felt in that moment. Maybe it was his delivery: the inflection and tone in his voice, more than the actual words, that caught my attention. I wondered what great feat of motherhood she had performed to warrant such a warm heartfelt response. Whatever it was, she had clearly done something that was meaningful to him.
Next, I observed that this rather simple communication had an immediate and positive effect on his mother. After he spoke, there was a brief pause and then she replied warmly in a melodic tone, “You’re welcome, Ryan!” I couldn’t see her, yet I could hear both the smile and hint of surprise in her voice which seemed to confirm that the thank you had been completely… unsolicited.
“Thank you” lets us know we are accepted,
valued and appreciated.”
For a parent, that’s a drop-the -mic moment. Unsolicited and sincere “thank- you’s” are a highly coveted holy grail of parenthood. We live with the hope that the moment will arrive. When it does, it catches us off-guard and melts our hearts. It reminds us how much we care for the person expressing thanks. Expressing and receiving thanks help build strong relationships.
It’s also true, that the same warm affection that a sincere, unsolicited “thank you” brings to unsuspecting parents of three -year -olds, (and teens, and forty-somethings…) is the same warm affection it brings to colleagues, employees and employers.
When it comes to the workplace, saying “thank you” is one of the simplest, most effective and under-utilized ways to connect with a team. When we hear it, it lets us know we are accepted, valued and appreciated. It costs nothing and requires only that we pay attention to what is working well and that we take the time and a little energy to express this—out loud.
“Thank you” feels good for both parties
and ensures our connection and survival”
Why this works is in part rooted in how we’re wired. When we receive thanks for something that we have done, our brain increases its production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for creating feelings of belonging and safety. But it doesn’t stop there. Serotonin levels also increase when we offer thanks and recognition.
Nature has developed this response to keep us connected to others, because at one time, staying connected with the group was essential to our very survival. When we say thank you we are in a way, protecting our place and our survival within the group. The person who is on the receiving end gets a boost of serotonin, making them feel good and closer to us. Their brain is telling them that we are part of the same group or tribe. And this also causes our own brain to boost its levels of serotonin, further reinforcing that the other person is part of our group or tribe. Nature ensures this is a feel-good, win for everyone.
So, on a social level, thank you feels good for both parties, and ensures our connection and survival. That’s impressive, but there’s also another benefit at work. Employee engagement research indicates that managers who take the time to say “thank you” to the people who work for them, find those employees out- perform those who have not been told “thank you.”
“Thank you” tells us we matter.
Research conducted by researchers Adam Grant (University of Pennsylvania) and Francesca Gino (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), tested this out by dividing university fundraisers into two groups. Both groups were on a fixed salary which was not dependent on the number of calls they made each day or number of donations they solicited.
The control group received no intervention- they continued to make donor calls as was typical. The test group had one difference. Prior to the test group making their calls, they met with the university Fundraising Director, and were thanked for their efforts. Here’s what she said: “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.”
Researchers discovered that in the week that followed, the fundraisers who had been thanked for their efforts, made 50% more fundraising calls than those in the control group. The findings suggested the “thank you” strengthened their feelings of social worth and value, which in turn increased performance of the test group. “Thank you” tells us we matter.
“It’s not enough to just think it and keep it to ourselves, the synergistic effect is experienced when we share it.”
In many ways, we strengthen our bonds with others when we demonstrate and express gratitude. In the workplace, giving and receiving thanks influences how we feel about ourselves, others and our work. It’s not enough to just think it and keep it to ourselves, the synergistic effect is experienced when we share it.
Simple tips on how to get the most out of your “thank you’s”
- Say it sincerely. Your non-verbal communication and tone needs to match your verbal words. The easiest way to ensure this happens is to actually mean it.
- Say it before the other person asks you for your feedback or reminds you to say it. This speaks to the unsolicited part.
- Say it deliberately. Your expression of thanks should be specific and personal. To do this use the other person’s name and let them know what specifically you appreciated. “Hey Patrick, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your feedback on the client proposal this week.” Or, “Thanks for staying late to help with those extra reservations today Jean, it was big help.”
When to say “thank you”
- Say it before a project or task.
- Say it after a project or task.
- Say it when it has meaning for the other person. Keep in mind there’s no need for an Academy Awards “thank you” speech when you discover that Carol replaced the toilet paper roll in the staff bathroom but, then again, that could be subjective.
- Look for a reason to say it to the person you don’t like or get along with. This will help bring them into your tribe.
- Look for a reason to say it to the person you think doesn’t like you. This can help bring you into their tribe.
When was the last time you gave a sincere, unsolicited “thank you” to someone you work with? Without telling anyone, challenge yourself to do this each day for a week and share your experiences below.