The Importance of “Thank You”

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post on the correct ways to respond to “Thanks.” Much to my surprise and delight it struck a chord with readers. As I was watching television after a Sunday of football, a 60 Minutes piece caught my attention so I decided to write about the importance of saying, “Thank you.”

In the 60 Minutes segment, Anderson Cooper interviewed Marcus Luttrell, the author of Lone Survivor, the account of four Navy Seals who were ambushed during a recon mission in Afghanistan. Luttrell was the lone survivor on that fateful day in 2005.

Cooper also interviewed retired Vice Admiral Joe McGuire. According to the Vice Admiral one of Luttrell’s comrades, Lieutenant Mike Murphy, placed a call for help after he and his three fellow Seals had been shot. Murphy had to expose himself on a rock to place the call even though he knew he’d likely be killed in such a vulnerable location.

He made the call and said, “We could really use your help.” He was told by command, “Help is on the way.” Then Vice Admiral McGuire said he admired Murphy because, having been shot and knowing he’d probably die radioing for help, he finished the call by saying, “Thank you.” The Vice Admiral said of Murphy, “That’s just the kind of man he was.” Did you catch that? He actually took time to say “Thank you” in the middle of a firefight knowing he might die!

As I noted in the post several weeks ago, how you respond to “thank you” can make a big difference in your ability to persuade others. On the flip side, expressing gratitude, saying “thank you”, is every bit as important. If Lieutenant Murphy could find the time to remember to say, “Thanks,” then who are we not to?

Giving thanks taps into reciprocity, the principle that tells us people feel obligated to do something for those who’ve done something for them. “Thank you” is one of the first phrases we learned when mom and dad taught us that thanking others was the right thing to do after someone had done something for us.

Unfortunately showing gratitude – good manners – seems to be slipping these days. I think that because of the responses I get from others when I say, “Yes, thank you,” or “No, thanks.” Quite often I’m thanked in return because politeness stands out today. While that might be a sad commentary, the good news for you is your “Thanks” will stand out in a positive way.

I remember many years ago “stopping the presses” to help someone accomplish something that was very important to them. It involved several people on my end and was a disruption in normal processing but we got it done. What stayed with me all these years was the fact that the person we helped never said thanks or acknowledged we went out of our way to help even though we didn’t have to.

I realize I don’t work for thanks and that I’m expected to do my job but our company has a culture in which associates recognize extra effort with sincere appreciation. I knew in my heart if that person ever wanted my help again I’d do what was asked but the effort would not be the same as it would for others who genuinely appreciated past efforts.

When you recognize people and their effort it helps build relationships and it’s a proven fact that people prefer to say, “Yes” to those they know and like. That’s the principle of liking.

So here is some simple persuasion advice. When people have done something you genuinely appreciate, let them know. “Thanks” and “Thank you” go a long way but I’d encourage you to go a bit further. Thank the other person and, if warranted, tag it with a bit more:

  • “Thanks, I really appreciate what you did.”
  • “Thank you. It means a lot to me that you’d…”
  • “You have been so helpful. Thanks a lot!”

Each of these takes just a moment of reflection and a couple of extra seconds. Lieutenant Murphy found the time during the fight of his life; can you? Even if you’re dealing with someone you might not see again at a minimum you might just brighten his or her day. If you’re dealing with someone you interact with regularly, an approach like I’ve described can go a long way toward building a stronger, more productive relationship and that will make future attempts at persuasion much easier.

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