There are two little words that can impact your day in the most amazing way. How often do you use them? They are common, simple words—not fancy or sophisticated—but man, do these two words have power. They can deflate an escalating situation, they can build alliances in unexpected ways, and they can immediately bring on a smile. You learned these words early on in life, but perhaps you don’t say them enough as an adult.
Thank you can be disarming. Not long ago I was in a virtual meeting where my boss and I had to explain to a colleague that his role was shifting. Change can be hard, but for this leader, the news seemed dramatic; you could see he was feeling dismayed. All the usual signs of distress were there—slightly frantic body movements, a flush in the cheeks, erratic questions, and a rising tone of voice. The news was not sitting well we could tell (and see).
Then my boss did an incredibly kind thing. Rather than immediately defend her stance or dive into why the decision had been made, she let him have his say. When he stopped, she said, “Thank you. Thank you for trusting us enough to be honest with how you feel.” While he had been ready for a fight, those words of gratitude completely disarmed him.
‘Thank you’ turned that meeting from a draining, stressful, unproductive situation into a fact-based conversation. It ultimately created a stronger partnership between the three of us. Now we know we can be forthcoming and not feel judged when those emotional moments get the better of us. 'Thank you' reinforced that honesty was appreciated and that it wouldn’t negatively impact our relationship and opportunities in the long run.
‘Thank you’ turned that meeting from a draining, stressful, unproductive situation into a fact-based conversation.
Thank you can get you free stuff. Recently I was at a pub with a group of friends playing shuffleboard and having a pint. It was relatively quiet in the bar, but a large portion of the tables were reserved for a big party coming in soon. You could feel the energy of the staff prepping for this impending party—a manager directing people to move tables, back office staff coming out to validate volumes of this or that—it looked like a pretty well-oiled machine, but you could also see that people were feeling a little rushed and pressured. Meanwhile, there was just one bartender to take care of the rest of the patrons.
Our crew is a pretty polite group, so seeing this sole bartender, we patiently waited for drinks and said 'thank you' each time we were served. A group next to us was a little less understanding about the service level.
A couple orders later we were still expressing our thanks and one of our group went out of his way to say how much we appreciated the bartender's smile and quick service.
When the bill came, we once again said 'thank you' as it was much lower than we expected. This was not the bartender's error, rather our appreciation to her had been met in kind.
Thank you brings empathy. I was recently shopping at a well-known retail store where a perfectly delightful clerk was helping me pick out a gift. As he was ringing me up, I genuinely thanked him for his help. I was expecting, nay hoping for a polite “you’re welcome”. Instead, he caught me (sadly) by surprise. "Thank you for saying thank you," he said. "Customers never say that to us."
He caught me (sadly) by surprise. "Thank you for saying thank you," he said. "Customers never say that to us."
He humbly explained to me that customers are frequently rude to him and often are impatient or even dismissive. As we were talking, a colleague of his came up and echoed the sentiments of unappreciation.
They made me think: Say 'thank you'. Remember to say 'thank you' more often. You can make a big impact on a stranger’s day.
Thanks to the company I work for—laser-focused on the customer experience—I get many opportunities to see both successful and not-so-successful interactions of gratitude. As a side-effect of working in service, every interaction I have with people forces a little part of my brain to process these moments through a customer service lens. It’s a blessing in many ways, because (while not always successful) it’s a constant reminder to try and be nice and grateful.
I know we tend to live in a bit of a bubble. But go ahead and try a ‘thank you’ out. You may just build a bond or even get a free beer. Or maybe just make someone smile.
Ayala Levine is the Director of Customer Advocacy, Global Product Support at Zendesk. She is an avid traveler/adventurer who lives in Berkeley, CA with her rescue dog Jesse. Her life's motto is she'll try anything at least twice. Find her on LinkedIn.