The Simplest Way to Express Gratitude

   I love the story of the young man with the bandaged hand who approached the clerk at the post office. “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The clerk, happy to help, agreed to write the message on the card.

   Once complete, the postal clerk asked the young man if there was anything else he could do for him. The young man looked at the card and then said, “Yes.  Would you please add a P.S., Please excuse the handwriting.”

   As this tongue-in-cheek tale illuminates, gratitude is rarely our first response.  For all the benefits of gratefulness, it’s just not a virtue we naturally put into practice. But if you’re serious about leading well, be it in your home, workplace, worship space, or community, gratitude has to become one of your preferred ways of walking in the world.  

   Renowned humanitarian, philosopher, and theologian Albert Schweitzer once wrote, “to educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted…Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” 

   As the above quote expresses, we can never go wrong communicating our gratefulness to others in word or deed. So with this perspective as a backdrop, let me ask you another question. Every day consists of 86,400 seconds.  How many of them have you used today to say "thank you?" 

   "Thank You” is a universally recognized phrase that transcends culture, race, tradition, gender, status, language, and age. The power of simply expressing thanks is proven to motivate, validate, and give positive reinforcement. It can even do wonders to elevate moods, enhance relationships, or keep hope afloat when things are looking particularly grim in our surroundings. 

   But, for all the power of words, it turns out that one of the most powerful ways to express gratitude to others is to go old school with thanks. That is, in this era of emails and texts, Facebook and Twitter, the simple act of writing a handwritten expression of gratitude can go a very long way to communicating your genuine commitment to becoming the leader you want to be and others deserve to see.

   One of the primary reasons a written thank you works is that it has lasting value.  It can be read, reread, and shared with family or friends. While a verbal comment can often express the same sentiments, a handwritten thank you touches us in ways that are proven to make us want to reciprocate. So much, in fact, that in a study of consumer tipping behavior, researchers found that servers who simply added a handwritten “thank you” to the restaurant bill elicited about 11 percent higher tips than those who did not.

   The value of frequently expressing thanks, however, isn’t just good for your health. It’s also great for your business. Study after study reveals that company’s whose employees routinely say "Thank you" to their customers benefit from both improved revenue and increased referrals. Plus, scores of industrial psychologists and organizational performance consultants chronicle how employee productivity, retention, morale, innovation, and commitment skyrocket when leaders make it a priority to express appreciation to workmates on a regular basis.

   A host of renowned bosses are quick to point out the importance of thanking people, including the late Robert Townsend, former CEO of Avis. In his book, Up the Organization, he recounts how sharing a simple “Thanks” is a really neglected form of compensation. Max DePree, author of the classic Leadership is an Art and former CEO of furniture giant Herman Miller, described saying “thank you” as among a leader’s primary responsibilities. And Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup who hand wrote over 30,000 thank you notes to his employees during his tenure, believed it was this simple act of expressed gratitude which did more than anything else to energize his once ailing company to attain (and maintain, I’d add) the success Campbell Soup company continues to enjoy today.

   So, with all this said, remember, gratitude is like a muscle. The more we do with it the stronger it gets. In the words of Meister Eckert, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice."  I’d add that’s quite a return-on-investment just for sharing two single syllable words that don’t cost you anything to use, anyway.

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This blog post is excerpted from Brigadier General John Michel’s new book, Mediocre Me: How Saying No to the Status Quo Will Propel You from Ordinary to Extraordinary, which will be in Bookstores 12 March 2013. The book is available now for pre-order at any online book retailer.
John E. Michel is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. An accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster, he has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts and his award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible and is married to the most patient person on the planet. Together, they are blessed with two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website,