Better Ways of Expressing Gratitude
Let’s pretend that in the course of a workday or a work week, you wind up needing a favor from someone. Maybe it’s not even a big favor, but it’s something the other person does above and beyond their regular responsibilities to support you, help you, or move forward towards a goal of your organization, team, or department. Let’s assume for just a moment that they did that action not expecting praise, thanks, or compensation. They did it because it felt like the right thing to do, and they’re a genuinely decent human.
How do you say "thanks"?
It’s highly possible that expressing gratitude is harder than it used to be. We’re rushed; we’re frenzied; we’re overextended; we’re barely able to recover from one moment when the next one comes barreling through. Oh, and did I mention that connecting with others is harder today than it used to be? Some of the places we used to casually bump into each other are harder to find -- whether it’s the hallways at work where only half of us are now in the office on any given day, or various social engagements, which have changed shape over the last 18 months and have become nearly unrecognizable. Making human connections takes more intentional effort today than it used to. If we want to make a human connection of appreciation, we’re going to have to put a little effort into it.
Why would we do that? If we don’t make the effort and extend our gratitude, what happens?
Well, one thing you can expect is that it would make it less likely for that person to say “yes” the next time you ask for help.
Have you ever seen it happen? Someone - perhaps you - volunteered or agreed to help. You put in the effort to do something, and never heard back anything at all? No “thanks!” No “that really helped!” No “I appreciate you!” You were left wondering if what you did was useful, effective, or just a waste of time. How likely were you to help again? If they didn’t like it the first time, why try again? Right? In that cycle, we’ve taken someone who was putting others first, and instead of rewarding them for that collaborative approach, we’ve made them more likely to grumble about serving others next time. That's unfortunate.
The truth is, we need to say "thanks," because appreciation encourages engagement and participation.
I don’t believe the expression of gratitude needs to be wildly over the top -- unless the help they gave was wildly over the top. There should be an alignment between the expression of gratitude and the effort extended or the support provided.
As we’ve seen time and time again, and as the work of Dr. Paul White demonstrates, appreciation is its own language, and we each speak it a little bit differently. So when you’re expressing gratitude, one of the best ways you can do that is to make sure that your expression of gratitude is spoken in the same language that that other person speaks.
We’ve touched on these before, but thought a quick refresher might be useful
1 – Words of affirmation.
Use specific words to thank the person, specifically for what they did. Not “thanks for all you do”, but specifically, “thank you for the time and energy you put into preparing those opening remarks for our big event last week. You really set the right tone for the event the other day, and it was fun to see the audience connect with you so well.” Or perhaps, “Thanks so much for making the time to help me out with that problem I was struggling with! I know you’re busy, and I really appreciate that you took time to help me get unstuck yesterday, even when you had your own full plate.”
2 - Acts of service.
Do something to make their life a little easier, take work off their plate if you can, or help them with something they have to complete. It might look like this: “Thanks so much for your help with ABC, I’d love to return the favor, and I have some time this afternoon, can I help you with XYZ?”. If you’re in different lines of work or you’re not in a place you can reciprocate, then at the very least make time to share some insights their actions had on you. Often, people who value acts of service also like knowing what a positive impact their act of service had on others. “Thank you so much for your help with that project. Your insights on the 123 topic really helped us turn that corner, and we were able to finish on time after all because of your help!”
3 - Quality time.
If that other person speaks the language of quality time, there’s a chance that they helped or served so that they could spend time with you while helping or serving. Make an effort to spend time with them to show your appreciation. Maybe it’s during the event or the project or the thing itself where they’re helping, you sit alongside them, work alongside them, engage with them in conversation about how they’re doing and what’s new with them. Often, folks who speak quality time give that quality time as a gift, so thanking them for their gift of time by spending time focused on them can be a powerful way to express gratitude.
If the other person speaks the language of gifts, then a small, thoughtful gift, related to the event or the help they provided would be very appropriate. This doesn’t have to be large or expensive - it doesn’t even have to be something purchased. A hand-written card with notes or signatures from those involved, or perhaps a coupon for a coffee or popcorn or a candy bar that you’ve found a way to link thematically to the help they provided could make a big impact with a small investment. Something they can use, consume, or keep as a souvenir might be a good place to start for this.
5 - Physical touch.
Maybe a handshake, a high-five, a hug, or a pat on the back would be just the right thing for this individual. You can recognize that someone appreciates physical touch when you find them with a small personal space bubble, and when you have experience knowing that they often “go in for the hug” or handshake. Use your words at the same time to express specific appreciation for their act of service so they make the connection between your gratitude and your action. In our current germ-sensitive climate, you may have to get creative: perhaps physical touch isn’t really allowed, but you could physically hand them a thank you note, a certificate of appreciation, or a warm cup of hot cocoa they can put their hands around.
Hopefully you’ve found a couple of ideas here. Expressing gratitude or appreciation is something we should all get a little more comfortable doing, and the more we learn the languages of appreciation that others speak, the more we’ll be able to say “thank you” in a way that they understand. And taking that brief moment to simply say “thank you” will make it more likely that others will be willing to take that extra step to help us in the future.