What's wrong with saying "thank you"?

Just saying thanks is a great way to appreciate your team members.

In my work as a team coach, I encourage team members to exercise leadership skills within the team setting. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to formally lead, but it does mean that they consider things within the team as a leader would. This makes sense when, for example, someone on the team is not working up to standards. If the team has clear and consistent standards (and I realize that, for some teams, that’s a big “if”), then any team member who is wearing a leadership hat – formal or informal – should be able to call that team member out and ensure that team standards are met. That is what a leader would do and so that is what anyone on the team should be able to do.

However, what does it mean to be a leader – formal or informal – on a team where everything is working well?

To me, it means acknowledging others, sharing in celebration and saying “thank you”.

However, it constantly surprises me how much push-back I get from individuals and teams. Really? Push-back on saying “thank you”? Yes indeed. I hear things like:

  • But why should I thank someone for just doing their job?
  • They should already know they are doing a good job.
  • No one says “thank you” to me, so why should I say it to someone else?
  • “Thank you” doesn’t really mean anything – it’s empty.
  • It won’t make a difference.

I shake my head in frustration and sadness. Do we really need to be convinced to say “thank you”? Well, let me try a few ideas out on you…

You should thank someone for doing their job because it’s polite. We raise our children to say “please” and “thank you” at home, to parents, to teachers, to elders. I do believe that politeness and civility should also be present in the workplace. Gratitude is a whole deeper more meaningful level and I agree that should be in the workplace, the family, the school (etc) as well – but let’s just start with “thank you”.

Yes, people probably already do know they’re doing a good job. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that they know that you know they are doing a good job. They want to hear it from you. And if you think that external validation shouldn’t matter, then think again. Saying “thank you” is highly engaging and motivating. It means that person has been seen and their contributions have been valued. It’s a step on the path towards recognizing their importance as part of the hard-working community that makes your organization hum.

No one says “thank you” to you? I agree, that is sad. Very sad. And you can change it. You can start a powerful culture of thanks in your organization. And the really neat thing is that once you start saying thanks, you feel better yourself. Giving thanks is just as powerful, maybe more so, than receiving thanks. Say it, mean it, and feel it.

As to the last two points, I challenge you to try saying “thanks”. If you believe that saying “thanks” is empty, then find something meaningful to thank. Change your own mindframe before letting the words “thank you” pass your lips. You will say the words in a whole new way. And then you will see and feel the difference that it makes.

Blogs this week are full of thanks and thanksgiving as the US Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. Yet saying thanks isn’t limited to one day of the year – and especially not at work when so many people have Thanksgiving as a day away from work.

Think about when someone at work said “thanks” to you – what difference did it make for you? And when have you said “thank you” to someone on your team? How did you feel? What was the effect on the other person? I’d love to hear your stories.


Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

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