Every year, the Thanksgiving holiday serves as a laundry list of reminders to me. It reminds me that I need to get my annual woodshop project finished so that gifts can be mailed on time. It reminds me to update my company holiday card list and to get started on the annual family letter. It prompts me to blow the dust off of my piano score of Nutcracker, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering kinfolk. Most important, it reminds me to remember to say, “Thank you.”
Those two little words – when spoken together and with sincerity – are among the most powerful in the English language. Just last week I had cause to be reminded how important they are and how prone I am to forget them. My fifteen-year-old daughter is a pretty good sport about most things. Not least of these is helping me with the upkeep around the place. With her older brothers grown and gone, this can be a tall order sometimes. Long story short, I woke up in the wee hours of Monday morning last week with the realization that I had not said a word of thanks to her for helping rake leaves the afternoon before. The temperature was below thirty and we had been out for several hours raking up over an acre of wet, frosted leaves and hauling them back to the compost bins at the other end of the property. It was hard work and she had been a trooper. There was not much I could do about it at 2:00 in the morning, but you can bet that I made a point to thank her as I drove her in to school that day.
One might opine that words of thanks were not really necessary. After all, my daughter receives an allowance as well as food, clothing, shelter, and transportation in exchange for chores. That may be true, but words of thanks are an affirmation that her efforts have more value than a mere exchange of goods and services. The efforts of her body and mind contribute substantively to our spiritual as well as our material wellbeing as a family. It is not simply desirable to give thanks. It is beneficial.
The same is true in the business environment. Everyone there is being paid to do his or her job. Consequently, a leader, manager, or supervisor is under no obligation to thank anyone. And yet, consider the analyst who stayed late to finish a report or the two technicians who spent a weekend migrating the POS system to new servers. Each of them took time away from his or her personal life in order to provide value to the organization. Are they not deserving of sincere affirmation? How about the colleague who delivers work of consistently high quality, or the staff member who brightens up the office every day with her cheerful good humor? A heartfelt, “Thank you for what you do,” is a confirmation that an individual or a team brings value not just to the organization but to its people as well.
Meetings in particular have need for the genuine expression of gratitude. All too often, new ideas can be upsetting or even threatening to participants. A good moderator can use a well-placed thank you to deflect what could potentially be an emotional response by other participants. “Thank you, Jim, for that insightful suggestion. It’s clear that you’ve given this some thought. I know that it is a radical departure from the way we’ve done things before, but let’s take a couple of minutes as a group to point out the positive aspects of Jim’s idea before examining the challenges. Iris, can you start us off?” Providing that Iris starts off in an affirmative way as requested, the moderator has just created another opportunity for honest gratitude. And it is infectious.
Facilitated meetings utilizing a formal structure offer even more opportunities for giving thanks on both the personal and the group level. “Does everyone understand how this exercise works? Great. Who’s ready to go first? Thanks, Bill, for taking the lead.” At the end of the exercise, it is time for acknowledgement all around. “Wow! Great job, team. You generated almost forty options in under five minutes. I know it looks messy right now, but you’ll see how important these are as we move through the next two games. Thank you for staying with me.” The use of honest gratitude at both the individual and collective level not only keeps the meeting energy high, but also brings people together.
In truth, we have reason to be thankful in all facets of our lives. I have touched on this theme before in these pages, notably in Blanket Order. We are so interconnected with our fellow human beings that we are receiving value in innumerable ways almost every moment of our existence. And so, if I have not said it before, thank you. Thank you for reading these musings. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for you. Which of course reminds me that I need to get another coat of lacquer on that woodshop project. Happy Thanksgiving.
Have you remembered to thank someone today? How can you encourage more spontaneous gratitude in your organization?