Why and How Leaders Need to Say Thank You

Posted 10.27.2010

Thankyounotes With a shout out to the folks at the Compensation Café blog, I just read an interesting post  on research that demonstrates the positive results that come from saying thank you.  So, as you read that last sentence you may have thought, “They needed a study to demonstrate that?  I learned that as a kid.” 

Yeah, me too. Specifically from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Kreiger with some reinforcement from Miss Marilyn on the Romper Room TV show (along with her classic advice to “Do be a doo bee and don’t be a don’t bee.”)

Saying thank you is just the polite thing to do, right? Have you noticed, though,  that polite behavior doesn’t seem as prevalent as it used to be? In the ongoing battle for our attention between getting results and building relationships, the focus on results seems to be in the lead.  For leaders that are all about the results, taking the time to say thank you often gets pushed down the list of things to do.  After all, you’re busy. They know you’re busy and probably know you appreciate their help. If you don’t have time to say thanks, it’s not that big a deal, right?

The research suggests otherwise. Here’s a quick summary from the PsyBlog on the study that was published by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: 

In the first study, 69 participants were asked to provide feedback to a fictitious student called ‘Eric’ on his cover letter for a job application. After sending their feedback through by email, they got a reply from Eric asking for more help with another cover letter.

The twist is that half of them got a thankful reply from Eric and the other half a neutral reply. The experimenters wanted to see what effect this would have on participant’s motivation to give Eric any more help.

As you might expect, those who were thanked by Eric were more willing to provide further assistance. Indeed the effect of ‘thank you’ was quite substantial: while only 32% of participants receiving the neutral email helped with the second letter, when Eric expressed his gratitude, this went up to 66%.

Saying thank you led to a 100% increase in willingness to help again in the future.  If you’re a leader who’s all about the results that should get your attention. Turns out that saying thank you is a pretty important skill to have if you want to get things done.  Here are some tips on how to do it:

Make it fresh:  While revenge may be a dish best served cold, a thank you isn’t.  When someone helps you out, thank them in the moment or as soon as you can.

Make it personal:  Acknowledge the time and effort your colleague spent to help you out.  Just like you, they’ve got 24 hours in a day and no more. They made a choice to put off something that was important to them to give you assistance. Let them know that you appreciate that.

Make it clear:  The research shows that a thank you means more when the person being thanked understands the value of what they did. Make it clear in your thanks how what they did helped you. 

What about you?  What are some of the most meaningful thank you moments you’ve had?  What made them so memorable?  What else do you think is important in saying thank you?