Forging a grateful future

Credit: Courtney Hedger
Credit: Courtney Hedger

Expressing genuine appreciation became personal practice and a business strategy for me during COVID-19. I hope we’ll all keep saying thank you – and meaning it – moving forward.

I didn’t bake sourdough bread or serenade my neighbors during the pandemic. I didn’t read every book on bestseller lists or learn to play the mandolin. But like many folks, I did cultivate new habits. 

Some of these habits will surely go by the wayside as the virus (hopefully) relinquishes its grip on our lives. But others – I hope – will remain.

One habit I plan to make permanent, both personally and professionally, is saying thank you.

Of course, I often said thank you in the before-virus times. Thank you for holding the elevator door; thank you for picking up my Amazon box. But mostly, I said thank you because I was trained as a child to do so. My “thank yous” were often reflexive, throwaway statements. Drop a thank you to the server and I could go back to my meal and conversation. Box checked. Interaction forgotten. The response was automatic, rather than authentic.

But the pandemic forced us all to reflect on human connections. Without standard social interactions, we came to realize their value, even during fleeting exchanges. We added eye contact to “thank yous” and weight to the words. Muzzled by masks, we found ourselves nearly shouting “thank you” as the barista delivered our cappuccinos. And we meant it: we were grateful for the little things (coffee!), for big things (health!), for everything.

Here’s how we can all keep the thank you habit alive and vital going forward.

Zero in on the reason

If we backslide, thank yous will once again be tossed-off conversation closers or meager TY texts. Or worse, just emojis. Please, no. A good thank you needs to be specific: What did the person do? How did they make you think? How did it have an impact? 

One of the most meaningful “thank yous” that I’ve received this year was during the one-year mark of working remotely. This person said, “Thank you for encouraging a culture that allows everyone to feel.” I’ll be hanging onto that one for a good long while. While it was short, direct and simple, I knew it wasn’t a rote gesture – a core tenant of a meaningful thank you. It was specific to an action that I’m intentional about. We all like to be seen and appreciated.

Be vulnerable 

Sometimes we say "thank you because someone pointed out a blind spot, or saved us from a potential blunder. It’s easy to brush off such moments with a quick “thanks,” but increasingly, I’m trying to use the full “thank you” to acknowledge that I truly dodged a bullet. 

Blending thank you with vulnerability is especially important in the workplace. It strengthens not just people and teams, but also our work, our culture and the company itself. 

Don’t qualify

Consider replying to feedback with a sincere “thank you for telling me that” – even when the feedback is deflating or hard to hear. A simple thank you is a powerful way to acknowledge that you have truly listened and learned, and it’s also important not to muddle it with qualifiers. 

Like many, I’ve diligently worked to educate myself about diversity and be anti-racist in my words and actions. Getting feedback from BIPOC colleagues and friends is part of that process, and I’ve learned to say “thank you” without following up with “I didn’t mean…” 

Leading with appreciation, not aggression

The last year and a half also challenged some of the narratives I believed about leadership – like the need to withhold emotion as a show of strength. Business conversations are riddled with aggressive and overly combative terms: We win or lose battles for customers’ attention. We seek to dominate our competitors. We strategize like warlords. We wage campaigns to fight for market share. 

But what if saying “thank you” becomes a more central part of business strategy? What if we replaced annual employee reviews with monthly thank you notes? What if we sent “thank yous” to clients that have stopped calling – without expectation that we could revive the business? What if we said thank you when people offered opinions and diversity of thought, rather than countering with our own ideas or a slew of didn’t-you-think-ofs?

Let’s commit to ensuring heartfelt thank yous stick around. Regardless of where we work or what we do, it’s vital that how we work includes a sense of appreciation for each other and our contributions. 

Marcus Fischer is CEO of Carmichael Lynch.

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