Tag Archives: feedback

The power of “thank you”

Its hard to put your foot in your mouth when the words thank you are coming out of your mouth.

It's hard to put your foot in your mouth when the words "thank you" are coming out of your mouth.

Of the 20 destructive habits Marshall Goldsmith identifies in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, five have share a common solution.

Say “thank you.”

Sometimes this is obvious, as with habits #10 and #17, “Failing to give proper recognition” and “failing to express gratitude.” In that case, saying “thank you” is a no brainer.

Goldsmith also recommends saying “thank you” as a remedy for less obvious problems, such as habit #18, “punishing the messenger.”

What does saying thank you have to do with not punishing the messanger?

Think of it this way, it’s hard for you to put your foot in your mouth when the words “thank you” are coming out.

In this case, the “thank you” is less about expressing gratitude and more about stopping you from expressing harmful emotions. “Thank you” is a way not to take out your anger on the messenger.

That’s also why saying “thank you” is part of the prescription for habit  #3, “passing judgment,” and habit #6, “telling the world how smart we are.”

For habit 6, he explains how “thank you” works, “Stopping this behavior is not hard–a three-step drill in which you (a) pause before opening your mouth to ask yourself, ‘Is anything I say worth it?’ (b) conclude that it isn’t, and (c) say, ‘Thank you.'”

For this to work, though, you have to just say thank you. If you say, “thank you, but…” and then launch into a self-serving lecture about how you could improve on the idea (thereby showing how smart you are), you’ve defeated the purpose.

I picked up on this not because I think it’s an easy fix (I don’t think it is), but because it ties into one of my destructive habits. I often get defensive and bristle when given negative feedback or when I feel at my limit and I’m asked to do more or criticized for not having done more.

Goldsmith’s suggested response of “thank you” would be a big improvement over my defensiveness.

Are you saying “thank you” enough? Are there things you shouldn’t be saying where you’d be better off just saying “thank you”?

Be as specific in your praise as you are your criticism.

Dog balancing cup by SuperFantastic at flickr.com“Overall we’re very satisfied with your work…”

Even when this statement is true, it sounds hollow and vague.

But the critiques that follow it are always specific, and often painful to hear.

I know, I often use variations of this line myself.

But when it’s used on me, I realize how it comes off as an empty platitude.

How should you respond?

One way is to avoid giving criticism or corrective feedback. There are some who advocate this path. They say you’ll get farther with only praise than you ever would with only criticism.

If you look through my blog posts, you’ll see I’m far too opinionated for that approach to work for me.

There is another alternative, though. You can make your praise just as specific as your criticism.

Instead of saying “you did a good job chairing that meeting (followed by the inevitable “but…”),” you can say, “I thought you did an excellent job giving the group time for informal discussion and then gently bringing us back on topic.”

Yes, it takes more thought to pick out specific examples of what to praise, but it’s much more meaningful for the person who hears it.

And if we want their continued support, we owe them this extra work.

And we especially owe it to them if we’re going to offer corrective feedback.