I like to think I'm good at saying "thank you," but I'm really not.
Maybe you aren't either: If you're like me, you're really good at thanking people who do things for you...but there are certain situations where we definitely fail to express our thanks.
1. When someone compliments you.
I can't remember the last time I accepted a compliment without throwing in a "but."
Say someone compliments an article I wrote. I usually frown and say something like, "Thanks...but I wish I had told the central story differently." Or say someone compliments me after a speaking engagement. I usually frown and say something like, "Thanks...but I didn't read the room as well as I should have." I'm the king of the "thanks...but."
And you may be, too.
If you are, it's understandable. You have high standards. It's natural to be your own worst critic when you always want to do better; it's natural to focus on what you can improve rather than what you did well. So it's natural to critique yourself...but not in front of the person who just praised you, because when you do, you also ruin the moment for them.
When someone compliments you, be gracious: Smile and say, "Thank you. I really appreciate it."
Accept the moment for what it is: a chance to feel good about yourself, and, more importantly, to let another person feel good about him or herself, too.
Praise is a gift that means as much to the giver as it does to the recipient -- if we let it.
The next time you receive a compliment, just smile and say thanks. Bask in the appreciation and praise. Feel good about yourself for a moment or two. And let the other person feel good about him or herself.
You both deserve it.
2. When someone gives you "advice" or "help."
I have a tendency to be reckless, and my shoulders have paid the price. (One looks like a horribly misused Erector Set.) To avoid popping and grinding when I do seated overhead presses, I keep the seat at a slight angle.
That means occasionally someone will walk over and say, "If you're trying to work your shoulders you should have the seat all the way vertical...."
It's never fun when someone at the gym criticizes your form, and I would say something like, "I know, but I've separated both shoulders and broken both collarbones and I didn't have one of them set correctly and..." and yeah. I would get defensive.
Then I realized (most) people were just trying to help. So now I say, "Thanks for looking out for me. My shoulders don't work very well and this is the only way I can do overheads without a lot of pain, but I really appreciate that you would take the time to try to help me. If you ever see me doing something wrong, please let me know. I can use all the help I can get."
Some people who offer advice -- without being asked -- are just trying to help, so thank everyone who offers advice. It's not easy to step forward and try to make a difference; do your part to make it easier.
3. When someone asks you for advice or help.
When someone asks me for advice or help, I automatically go into fix-it mode: "You could try this... or this... or this..." And maybe you do, too.
But take a step back and think about it. When someone asks you for help, they're implicitly showing they respect you. They're saying, "You know more than I do." They're saying, "You can do something I can't." They're saying, "You have experience (or talents or something) that I don't have."
Plus, they're implicitly saying they trust you by being vulnerable and admitting to a weakness.
So don't dive right into problem-solving mode. Take a moment and recognize the faith that person has shown in you. Say thanks.
Say, "Thank you for feeling like I can help you. That really means a lot to me. I promise I'll do my best."
Then do your best.
4. When you make a mistake.
I know that sounds odd; shouldn't you just apologize when you've made a mistake or caused a problem? Of course you should...but there's an elephant in the room you haven't dealt with.
Say you put someone on hold for longer than expected. You could just apologize...but if they waited, you should also express your appreciation. Say, "Thank you for holding. I'm sorry I kept you waiting this long...."
Or say you deliver -- a project, a package, whatever -- a day later than expected. You can explain why...but you should also say, "Thank you for being patient. I'm sorry we took longer than we promised...."
We're taught to focus on the problem, not the person...but when you've done something wrong, don't ignore the human aspect. Express your appreciation for what the other person had to endure: waiting, changing their plans, accepting a compromised outcome, etc.
Don't just explain why something happened, thank the other person for their willingness to deal with your error.
You'll be surprised by how much that can help turn a negative situation around -- and help repair a relationship that might have been damaged.
5. When you are least expected to say "thank you."
I was third in line. The guy at the front of the line was huffing and puffing and threatening to blow the smoothie shop's house down because, I don't know, maybe because he felt he wasn't being treated with the deference due a Wolf of Industry. He left in a huff (albeit a huff insufficient to blow said smoothie shop down).
The kid at the counter stayed nice, stayed polite, and stayed professional. It was an impressive performance for a high school student working a part-time job.
The woman in front of me placed her order. Then she said, "You know, you handled that really well."
The kid was startled. "Um..." he stammered.
"No, really," she said. "He was being a jerk. But you handled it perfectly. And because you did, it made it less awkward and uncomfortable for everyone else waiting in line. Thank you for doing that."
"Thanks," he said. He turned to make her smoothie, his shoulders a little broader and his back a little straighter.
Every day, people around you do good things. Most of those people don't work for you; in fact, most of them have no relationship with you, professional or personal. Thank them for something they would least expect.
An expected "thank you" feels good. An unexpected "thank you" can make a huge -- and lasting -- impact.