The Importance of Saying “Thank You”

This is a chapter from my book Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. I thought it appropriate to share on the heels of Thanksgiving. I hope you and your loved ones had a happy holiday.



The Importance of Saying “Thank You”

You just read about correct ways to respond to “Thanks” and now it’s time to learn about the importance of saying “Thank you.” The genesis for this was the television show 60 Minutes.

In the 60 Minutes episode, Anderson Cooper interviewed Marcus Luttrell, the author of Lone Survivor, the account of four Navy Seals who were ambushed during a recon mission in Afghanistan. Luttrell was the lone survivor on that fateful day in 2005.

Cooper also interviewed retired Vice Admiral Joe McGuire. According to the Vice Admiral one of Luttrell’s comrades, Lieutenant Mike Murphy, placed a call for help after he and his three fellow Seals had been shot. Murphy had to expose himself on a rock to place the call even though he knew he’d likely be killed in such a vulnerable location.

He made the call and said, “We could really use your help.” He was told by command, “Help is on the way.” Then Vice Admiral McGuire said he admired Murphy because, having been shot and knowing he’d probably die radioing for help, he finished the call by saying, “Thank you.” The Vice Admiral said of Murphy, “That is just the kind of man he was.” Did you catch that? Lieutenant Mike Murphy actually took time to say “Thank you” in the middle of a firefight knowing he might die!

As I noted in the previous section, how you respond to “thank you” can make a big difference in your ability to persuade others. On the flip side, expressing gratitude, saying “thank you,” is every bit as important. If Lieutenant Murphy could find the time to express thanks, then you and I can certainly do so no matter how busy we might be.

Giving thanks taps into reciprocity, the principle that tells us people feel obligated to do something for those who’ve first done something for them. “Thank you” is one of the first phrases you might have learned as a child. It’s a good bet your parents taught you thanking others is the right thing to do after someone did something for you.

Unfortunately, showing gratitude – good manners – seems to be slipping these days. I write that because of the responses I get when I say, “Yes, thank you,” or “No, thanks.” When I thank people, it stands out because politeness seems to be in short supply. While that might be a sad commentary on the state of society, the good news for you is your “Thanks” will stand out in a positive way.

During my career there was a time when I “stopped the presses” to help someone accomplish a task of huge importance to them. It involved several people on my end and was a disruption in normal processing but we got it done. What stayed with me all these years later was the fact that the person we helped never thanked us or acknowledged we’d gone out of our way to help even though we didn’t have to.

I realized I didn’t work for thanks. I was paid well and was expected to do my job. However, the company culture at the time was one in which associates recognized extra effort by expressing sincere appreciation. I knew in my heart if that person ever wanted my help again, I’d do my job but the passion wouldn’t be the same as it would be for others who genuinely appreciated my help.

When you recognize people for their effort it builds relationships. That’s important because people prefer to say Yes to those they know and like according to the principle of liking.

When people do something you genuinely appreciate, let them know. “Thanks” and “Thank you” go a long way but I’d encourage you to go a bit further. Thank the other person and, if warranted, tag it with a bit more and be specific about why you appreciate their help.

  • “Thanks, I really appreciate what you did.”
  • “Thank you. It means a lot to me that you would…”
  • “You have been so helpful. Thanks a lot!”

How can you Influence PEOPLE? Start making “Thank you” a habit. Each response noted above takes just a moment of reflection and a few extra seconds. If Lieutenant Murphy found the time during the fight of his life, can’t you? Even if you’re dealing with someone you might not see again, at a minimum you might just brighten his or her day. If you are dealing with someone you interact with regularly, effective thank you’s will build a stronger, more productive relationship and it will make future attempts at persuasion much easier.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world. His blog, Influence PEOPLE, is read by people in 200 countries across the globe.

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