Pay attention, Say Thank You

by Marianne Richmond on January 28, 2007

Church of the Customer recently highlighted a story from the Wall Street Journal  about the law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP who in response to low morale and an excessive level of associate turnover initiated a program to encourage partners to show more appreciation and respect to the firm’s associates.

Specifically,  the need to say "thank you" and "good job’ and to return associate’s phone calls and not cancel their vacations. As Ben McConnell notes, "that weird common courtesy stuff." When Ben says, "its no joke" I presume he means the facts of the story are true and, C,’mon, do you seriously need to be told to say thank you? It makes you ask some other questions:


  • What’s wrong with the partners in this law firm that they are so un-appreciative of their associates?

  • How do they treat their clients?

  • Do they kick their dogs?

The title of the article asks the question: Does Saying Thank You Help Keep Associates? Well, doesn’t "that weird common courtesy stuff" help" keep" everyone? And, the opposite, being discourteous and unappreciative keeps everyone away.

Saying "thank you" and "good job" demonstrates attention and articulates appreciation. Paying attention and showing appreciation will improve morale and reduce turnover in all of our relationships, personal and professional….you can offer a money-back guarantee on that one.

David Pollard at How to Save the World wrote, "What people seek from others more than anything else, is attention and appreciation. I’ve observed that to be true in boardrooms, bedrooms and barrooms. You want to win over your boss, give him or her your full attention, and acknowledge his or her successes, without being a suck-up about it. You want to win over your audience in a presentation, make lots of eye contact, show empathy for their situation (which means doing your homework in advance) and thank them more than once for their attention and their awesome questions."

A study by Mitchel Adler and NS Fagley (2005) provides some basis for the other side of the equation…why being appreciative is a good thing…they found that  being appreciative and expressing appreciation to others enhances feelings of well being; it makes us feel connected to what we have and to our experiences. They find that expressing appreciation builds social bonds and in fact "appreciation was significantly related to life satisfaction and positive affect. Importantly, they believe that even though being appreciative is a disposition, it can be taught. The WSJ article said that Sullivan & Cromwell saw an improvement in turn over after the partners went to charm school.

Another recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Dali Lama addressed the ability to change our brains through a change in thinking….to actually become more compassionate and empathetic.  In a study done with monks during meditation, it was found that indeed meditation could change the function of the brain and importantly, "monks with the most hours of meditation showed the most dramatic brain changes. That was a strong hint that mental training makes it easier for the brain to turn on circuits that underlie compassion and empathy."

So, mother was right: Say thank you, write thank you notes; be appreciative and don’t scrimp on expressing  appreciation and gratitude. Should appreciation not come naturally, it is possible to acquire the traits that make it possible….through mental training or meditation. If you do these things you will grow up to have successful personal relationships, loyal customers and clients  …and  be especially successful at generating positive word of mouth.

Jackie Huba writes about the $800 million dollar company that connects with customers through the "thank you" note written by a sales associate. Andy Sernovitz sent me a handwritten thank you note for blogging at the WOMMA Summit that demonstrated recognition and appreciation that stood apart …I really appreciated that he took the time in our electronic age to write a handwritten note!

The Lesson: Pay attention, listen, observe those around us…let them know that you appreciate them and what they do. Practice it until it comes naturally. You will improve your own sense of well being as well as contribute to theirs. This will become the environment in which you live and work.

Kathy Sierra, in her post Angry/ Negative People Can Be Bad for Your Brain talks about social contagion/emotional contagion…the spread of attitudes throughout populations. She quotes Memetics and Social Contagion"…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious.

She quotes the Dali Lama, The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope." Paying attention to the positive side and expressing this to others gives everyone hope.

One final thought. My cousin, Dr Leonard Berg passed away several weeks ago. He was an incredibly accomplished man who left behind a legacy that truly produced positive change in the lives of people all over the world. At his memorial service one of his children noted that because of his work, he really wasn’t home a lot but she always felt that he was there for her. He was paying attention and she knew that what she did was appreciated; his attitude was contagious.

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