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How to Practice Gratitude in the Office

In an age of perceived entitlement, saying “thank you” graciously seems to be on the back burner. We live in an era of increasingly demanding customers, coworkers, and clients. We believe that we deserve to get what we want, when we want it. And to a certain extent, that’s fine—as long as this attitude doesn’t diminish our sense of gratitude when we should express thanks to those who are generous to us or serve us in any way.

Saying thank you can take time and effort, and we’ve all probably had lapses in expressing gratitude. Sometimes we might even question whether a “thank you” is really necessary. Occasionally, it’s hard to know just what response is appropriate.

Here are a few gratitude dos and don’ts to consider when expressing thanks in public, professional, or personal situations.

How to Express Your Gratitude

The issue is not so much the form that the thank you takes as the spirit behind it. Of course, certain guidelines apply.

Some situations demand a formal note; other times, a telephone call or an e-mail is sufficient. And a face to-face thank you, where you support your words with strong vocalics, pitch, pace, and positive affirming body language, can be the most powerful of all.

A caution for emailing ‘thanks’

Today, e-mail and voice mail are acceptable vehicles for thanking people, particularly for business-related intangibles such as covering for you at a meeting or referring a new client to you. Just remember that e-mail, for all its efficiency and relative informality, is still written communication.

Make sure that you take the same pains with your e-mail thank you as you would with a note written on fine stationery to make it thoughtful and sincere. Remember also that e-mail is never truly private. Keep the tone and content professional.

The case for handwritten notes

If you have received a gift or have been to someone’s home for dinner, on the other hand, the handwritten note still wins and becomes even more special in our world of electronic communication. If you find yourself procrastinating because you find letter-writing a hassle, make it easier by keeping stationery, pens, and stamps in a single place where you can sit down and get it done all at once. Or, if finding the right words is difficult for you, stores and online card sites are full of appropriate thank-you cards to which you can add a personal comment and signature.

Learn to be a gracious receiver

You’ve probably encountered people who, instead of simply expressing a sincere thank you, are compelled to repay a kindness in equal—or greater—measure. When someone does something kind or generous for you, the best way to show your gratitude is to sincerely tell the person how appreciative you are. Don’t overshadow the kindness with your own magnanimity. We all need to learn to accept graciously; people feel affirmed when their gesture evokes a positive reaction. Making the giver feel good is in itself a gift. Of course, when the opportunity arises later, you can always repay the kindness.

When to Express Your Gratitude

However you decide to express your gratitude whether thanking someone for a kindness, a business lunch, or an expensive gift, one element is crucial: timeliness.

Because a quick response is usually more effective—and appreciated—busy people often find it convenient to make a telephone call immediately (even if you just leave a message) and then follow up with a note. The receiver benefits from the strengths of both channels of communication: the richness and spontaneity of the spoken message and the permanence and authority of the written form.

You can also follow up with an oral thank you after you’ve put it in writing. This verbal response doesn’t have to be part of a formal process; you can simply do it when the occasion arises. For example, when you see the person next, you can reiterate your appreciation. A spontaneous comment makes people feel that your thanks are sincere and not just perfunctory adherence to protocol.

When timeliness becomes an impossible goal, remember that late is better than never. Don’t think, “It’s been so long I’d be embarrassed to thank him now.” Apologize for the delay if you feel that’s necessary, and then say thanks the same way you would have had no delay occurred.

Gratitude Improves the Workplace

Even though we’re told that giving is more beneficial than receiving, the act of receiving graciously is an attribute that we should all cultivate. People feel rewarded for their effort, and the positive reinforcement makes them more amenable to doing things for others. The result is a more civilized, more pleasant, and more considerate environment for all of us.

Beverly Langford

Beverly Langford, PH.D., is President of LMA Communication, a training, coaching, and consulting firm specializing in strategic communication and interpersonal effectiveness. She teaches graduate business communication at Georgia State University.

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