Monday, April 21, 2014

The Two Sides of Gratitude

There are countless sources of advice in the world on how to manage most every part of your life and career.  You need only pick a topic and then do one of many things to learn more - go to the bookstore; Google; read magazines; talk with friends, etc.  You get the point.  To illustrate what I'm saying, let's explore a list of areas where you can get input:
  • How to find a job
  • How to negotiate a salary
  • How to get promoted
  • How to handle vendors
  • How to manage projects
  • How to interact with difficult people
  • How to hire top performers
  • How to retain top performers
  • How to budget
  • How to coach and be coached
  • How to speak publicly
  • How to handle the politics of leadership
  • How to give performance reviews
  • Six Sigma
While I've listed 14 topics, I know for certain that I could find advice on hundreds and hundreds more.  In fact, it is more difficult by far to find a subject that is not readily referenced.  That is, until you start looking for information on the topic of gratitude.

Imagine that you search for a job and get an interview.  Today, only the grossly uninformed or the lazy fail to follow up with 'Thank You' notes.  But what happens after that?

Once inside of a company, like most people you are likely to receive raises, merit increases, performance bonuses, and other nice perks.  When is the last time you said, "Thanks"?  I mean, when did you actually take time out of your day to express gratitude?  It is surprising how non-intuitive it is for people, especially me, to take the explicit act of expressing gratitude.

Let's think about it for a second.  Most people work very hard for the things that they get.  When you personally receive a performance bonus or merit increase, don't you think you've earned it?  The truth is that you probably have but some other person still had to initiate and approve that payment or change to your status.  Like I tell people about employment, "You may work for a company but it is a person that pays you."  If you don't believe that, know that I've looked at every paystub I ever received and never once was it signed by "The Company"...

So what should you do to show gratitude?  In the end, how you do it is an individual choice.  I personally keep some stationery at my desk that I use to send hand written notes to express my thanks.  Just remember that the form is much less important than the action.

Now that we've discussed the importance of expressing gratitude, let's talk about something even more difficult.  This topic is about how to be on the receiving end!  If people are uncomfortable or unused to showing gratitude, they are much more so that way when someone expresses thanks to them.  Stop to think about this for a moment.  What did you do the last time someone thanked you for something that you did for them?  If you're like most people, you probably said something like, "Oh, it was nothing."  Even more likely, you felt embarrassed and didn't quite know what to say.

This behavior is even more deeply rooted in some cultures, to the point where it is imbedded in language.  People who speak Spanish know that "Thank You" equals "Gracias" and "You are Welcome" loosely equates to "De Nada".  Did you know that "De Nada", when translated to English in a literal way, means "Of (it's) Nothing"? 

When somebody expresses their gratitude or thanks to you, learn to accept it gracefully.  Rather than acting like what you did was nothing, acknowledge that you did something for another person and that your actions had value.  When you reciprocate an expression of thanks with a graceful acceptance, you forge a circle of trust, respect, and symbiosis.

Remember that the good things that happen in your life and career are not to be taken for granted.  Being thankful conveys many positive things including respect, appreciation, and admiration.  It also reinforces that positive things that happen to you have positive results for the people that graced you in the first place. 

Bear in mind that you, as a leader, are having a positive and beneficial impact on the people who support your continued success.  Learn to appreciate the experience when people "give back" to you.  It's part of the never-ending feedback loop that takes you and those around to higher and higher achievement.

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