I felt my go-to responses were deflecting what others were returning to me, so I went back to basics.
“It was nothing.”
These happen to be a few some of my common replies to someone expressing gratitude. In fact, it is less often I respond with the traditional, “You’re welcome.”
This past weekend I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote address for a group of emerging undergraduate leaders involved with an international service organization. My message focused on appreciating the impact they are all making with each bit of service they perform. Lesson number three of my speech: Allow gratitude in—say “you’re welcome.”
When someone thanks us, he or she is expressing gratitude by giving a gift back in the form of that thanks. I realized several months back that when I replied with, “It was nothing”, “No problem”, or “No worries”, I would get a smile in return but there was an air of awkward discomfort. Seems I was subtly deflecting their gift of gratitude by minimizing my assistance or telling them subliminally that they didn’t even need to take the time to thank me.
Once I recognized this, I tried a very unscientific experiment of replying with, “You’re welcome” in as many gratitude situations as possible. And when I successfully remembered this reply (because breaking the habit was difficult), I noticed a shift in relationship. When I said, “You’re welcome” and let it be, those showing their gratitude walked away more satisfied.
That’s the unscientific part of my experiment and analysis. I don’t know for certain they felt better about my reply. I administered no follow up surveys or conducted neural imaging. It’s just a feeling I had—-a feeling I continue to have as I incorporate this reply into my daily life.
In 2013, Adam Grant, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business professor and author of Give and Take composed an article entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Say ‘You’re Welcome.’” In his article, he references a replacement statement offered by psychologist and author Robert Cialdini—“I know you’d do the same for me.”
“I know you’d do the same for me.” Apparently this expression is intended to “capitalize on the power of the moment” (Caldini’s words, not mine) and lends itself toward accepting gratitude but also reinforcing the possibility of reciprocity later.
Adam Grant, like me, feels very uncomfortable simply letting Caldini’s statement out there alone. While it’s meant to be uplifting, highlighting the power within the other that they, too, can serve, it’s throwing the conversation right back on the individual expressing thanks. It leaves no room, in my opinion, for gratitude to make its way in.
As Grant explores the phrases in his article, he also morphs Caldini’s statement based on behaviors by Fortune Magazine’s best networker, Adam Rifkin. Rifkin’s style is not one of reciprocity, at which Caldini’s statement hints, but rather of paying it forward. As a result, Adam Grant’s alternative expression is, “Thank you. I know you’d do the same for someone else.”
For me, that’s a bit better. Perhaps that’s a statement for another day and another unscientific experiment. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to let gratitude in, say, “You’re welcome”, and let it be.
Image credit: juliejordanscott/flickr