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The Immense Power of a "Thank You"

Updated: Apr 3

Happy New Year! 


I recently learned that January is National Thank You Month. What a wise way to start the year.


All good leaders and communicators know how important it is to make audiences and colleagues feel seen, heard and valued. After all, acknowledgement is a proven relationship enhancer, motivator and lasting agent for social bonding. Still, research shows that many people still underestimate its true effectiveness. In a jaw dropping report from Gallup, employees who receive “great recognition” are 20x more likely to be engaged at work. (No, that is not a typo, I double-checked!)


But saying thank you is more than a leadership or communication tool. When we express gratitude, our brains engage in a series of processes that have a far more positive effect than meets the eye. Did you know that expressing sincere gratitude can have a profound effect on your own sense of well being? Neuroscience research shows that when we experience gratitude, we engage regions of the brain that regulate emotion, such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and others. The brain emits feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, promoting a sense of happiness, security and social bonding. Over time, consistent experiences of gratitude physically rewire the brain, promoting a more positive outlook on life and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Gratitude also elevates resilience. 


Once in a media training session, I counseled a client to acknowledge his team for the tremendous work they had done to contribute to a major recent success. He really embraced the idea. As part of our media training, we were also scheduled to spend a substantial amount of time on nerve reduction, but once we incorporated his heartfelt gratitude into the messaging, he said the nerve reduction was no longer necessary because he was, “feeling good”. Additionally, after the  interview he said thanking his team was his favorite part—even better than talking about his own success.  


Saying a formal thank you in meetings or in public doesn’t come naturally to everyone, however. In order to make it meaningful, you need to express yourself with enough generosity to make an impact without overdoing it and running the risk of sounding insincere. 


Coaching leaders on communication over the years, whether speaking to one or 1,000, I’ve noticed a few ways to say thank you that are especially easy for the speaker and impactful for the listener. 


Recognize what it took for people to do what they did

Example: I know this past quarter was not easy. I know about the many meetings, the long nights and the brilliance and energy you put in so we could meet our deadline. And you did it. I’m so honored to be a part of this team and I thank you. 


Express the difference they are making

Example: This strategy is something we can refer to every day for a long time to come. And it gives us a solid foundation to build upon as things change: We have parameters to keep us protected as we move forward. It’s reassuring for me personally, and I’m very grateful. 


Admire the action or product

Example: This slide deck hit the nail on the head. It’s creative and ambitious and I like how you emphasized all the important points without any extraneous information. This is impressive, thank you. 


So, if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution, or even if you’re not, you may want to consider thanking the people around you a little more often. When you start to see the positive impacts of this exercise, you might even thank yourself. 


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