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Mindful Communication

Gratitude: It’s not just good; it’s good business

Years ago I had a manager that one morning stepped into my cubicle and gave me some Hostess Donettes (at the time a guilty pleasure of mine). She said that she knew how much I liked these and wanted to just say “thank you” for some of the work I had been doing. Monetarily the Donettes cost her close to nothing, but the treat was imbued with far greater value than the couple of dollars she had spent. It showed that she knew my personal likes, was thinking of me and my contributions, and was willing to take the time—her time—to stop by a store and pick up a little something. It was a simple gesture, one that might be easily overlooked as having little business value, but the effect it had on my engagement with my work and her leadership was profound.

Gratitude is one of those things that we all understand as being important but ultimately gets little of our attention. However, this miss comes at a cost, both personal as well as professional. For example, according to a research review conducted by Polak and McCullough, people who recognize the many ways that their lives are enriched by the general goodness of others tend to be more fulfilled than people for whom the accumulation of wealth outweighs the need for meaningful relationships. Go ahead: put it to the test. Take a moment and consider all of those for whom you feel a sense of gratitude and thankfulness. This act alone, according to McCullogh, Tsang, and Emmons, will elevate your mood and give you a greater sense of personal well-being.

Gratitude has important business implications when it comes to bringing out our very best performance. Take the University of Buffalo for instance. They believe that fostering an “attitude of gratitude” and building a “culture of appreciation” brings about improved business results. The research supports this business model. For example, in their book Recognition, Gratitude, and Celebration, Townsend and Gebhardt say that a simple “thank you” taps into an entirely different part of a person’s psyche than systematic recognition program mechanisms. It includes a level of intimacy and vulnerability that strengthens relationships and builds trust. To be sure, formal recognition programs have their place and can be highly effective in their way, but they cannot elicit the sort of emotional commitment as can an authentic “thank you.”

But it’s not enough to just say “thank you,” it’s how you say it. An effective “thank you” includes a degree of intimacy and vulnerability. This is how meaningful relationships grounded in trust are forged and maintained. Here are a few ideas on how you can say “thank you” to your employees:

Send them a handwritten thank-you note

There’s something personal in a handwritten note that cannot be replicated in an email, text, or IM.

Given them a Friday afternoon off

When you think about it, Friday afternoon is probably one of the least productive times of the week anyway. Why not get a different kind of value out of that time and give it to your employees’ and their families? You’ll get dividends on Monday.

Take them out to lunch

All over the planet eating is a favorite way of creating and maintaining societal bonds and relationships. The personal one-on-one time that lunch affords is a great opportunity for everyone to celebrate their collaborative wins.

Bring a treat

Hostess Donettes went a long way with me. Learn what your people like and surprise them now and again.

Go for a walk together

I find that I do some of my best thinking while walking. For me, inviting someone to come along on one of my promenades is a way to strengthen a relationship on a more personal level.

Regardless of how you show gratitude, do it with authenticity and it will be hard to go wrong. And during this season of Thanksgiving, what better time to reach out and thank those that have enriched your life? Go ahead; you’ll be glad you did (and so will they).



McCullough, M. E., Tsang, J., & Emmons, R. A. (2004). Gratitude in intermediate affective terrain: Links of grateful moods to individual differences and daily emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 295-309. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.295

Polak, E., & McCullough, M. E. (2006). Is gratitude an alternative to materialism? Journal of Happiness Studies7, 343-360. doi: 10.1007/s10902-005-3649-5

Townsend, P. L., & Gebhardt, J. E. (2008). Recognition, Gratitude, and Celebration. Milwaukee, WI: Quality Press.

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