I was flying home from a trip recently and witnessed something lovely.
Our flight was delayed due to fog, and everyone was getting restless. It was a 30-minute delay, that progressively got later and later. We were now delayed two hours at a small, regional airport flying to Detroit. Nearly all of us had connections and many had already missed them. The rest of us began mentally preparing for the awkward power walk (or dreaded sprint) to catch the next flight.
I heard one passenger say, “I gotta talk to my boss and get our flight route changed. This airport is awful.”
Was fog the airport’s problem?
We finally were able to board and a man in front of me stopped the line, turned to the gate agent and said “Hey, listen. Days like this are hard and I just want you to know that I think you’ve done a great job. Thank you for your work today, it means a lot to us.”
The gate agent barely made eye contact and looked down, coughed awkwardly, and said “Wow. Um. Thanks for that. No one ever says that.”
It was a simple, quick, and lovely moment.
Something similar happened to me recently. I received an unexpected and meaningful thank-you. It carried me through my day.
When was the last time you genuinely complimented a co-worker’s effort? Not a “good job” or “nice work” but praised an important or insightful contribution they made on the team?
If you’re a leader, when was the last time you said “thank-you” in a meaningful and specific way? Again, not “Hey thanks! Great job.” Rather, when was the last time you expressed gratitude that described specifically what the individual did and the positive impact it had on the work?
While it is common knowledge that saying thank you and giving positive feedback is a good thing, it still seems to sometimes fall off the radar. We’re distracted, busy, focused on ourselves, or just trying to put one foot in front of the other to get through the week.
But what is the real impact of acknowledging the positive contributions of others and expressing gratitude, beyond displaying good manners? Read on to find out.
The research related to gratitude and work performance is compelling (and in some ways, not surprising). When someone is genuinely thanked for their work or contribution, they feel valued.
Christine Riordan writes in Harvard Business Review, “…when employees feel valued…they are motivated to do their best and work towards achieving the company’s goals.” Gratitude and positive feedback impact teams as well. “High-performing teams share nearly six times more positive feedback than average teams.” This is not only about recognizing what is working on the team, but it also demonstrates the team respecting each other’s contribution. This, in turn, motivates performance.
Another approach is to acknowledge people for what their good at or their strengths. A Gallup survey found that 67% of employees who had managers that focused on their strengths or “positive characteristics” were more engaged in their jobs. Gallup defines engaged employees as “…those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.” It is not surprising that engaged employees perform better.
Think about the people who are up, down, and across the organization from you. What are they good at? Forget about their quirks and deficits, rather where do they excel?
How might you recognize them for that and thus impact their performance in new and productive way?
Improved Personal Well-Being
Feeling thankful and expressing gratitude improves our own well-being. It doesn’t just make the other person perform better, but we perform better too.
Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury writes in The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief that “Gratitude may be a gesture or a group of kind words that we give or receive from others. But these simple exchanges of thankfulness go a long way in affecting our overall biological functioning – especially the brain and the nervous system.”
Robert Emmons, Ph.D. and Director of Gratitude Works with UC Davis describes how gratitude releases toxic emotions. “It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time. If you’re grateful, then negative emotions are reduced which makes room for more positive emotion. Positive emotion is what keeps us healthy and productive.”
Thanking others or recognizing the gifts that are around us (a warm bed, yummy food, funny friends, a picturesque autumn walk, etc.) doesn’t just make us feel good, it impacts our physiology.
When our bodies and our brains are healthy, we can live the lives we truly want. Who doesn’t want that?
It’s easy to take short-cuts and just say “thanks” or “nice job” but if we really want to make an impact on our work and our life, going a little bit further is worth it. Use a sincere and simple format:
Describe what happened: “Hey Melissa, I appreciated your comment today about how to rethink our customer interactions.”
Describe the impact: “It opened my eyes to a new issue that needs to be explored further.”
Say thank-you: “Thanks for speaking up. I appreciated it.”
If this approach is new to you, post the format on a sticky-note by your laptop to remind yourself of what to say and how to say it.
Consider making it a weekly practice. Plan and intentionally thank 3-5 people. Maybe co-workers, your boss, the Starbucks employee who makes your coffee every day, or your spouse who remembered to put the laundry in the dryer.
It all goes a long way to improve our own well-being and the well-being of others.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.