Friday, August 06, 2010

The Power of Gratitude

Yesterday another audit was wrapped up at work. The closing meeting occurred after 12 hours of document review, facility tours, walkthroughs and conversations and over 24 hours of pre-audit preparation. The auditors completed their comments and walked out the door. Documents were recovered and moved back to a holding area for further processing and return to their home.

In all of this, nobody thanked anyone.

This thing is a pestilential curse upon every relationship up and down the chain of human existence, this assumption that those that are less than us are here to serve us. The reverse does not appear to be true: when a superior of any kind performs an action or kindness, there almost always seems to be an immediate recognition and thanks. However, more often than not we fail to offer those who serve us the same thing.

The reality is that nothing in modern society gets accomplished without a great deal of moving parts from a lot of different sources. For my own example: the person who cleans the room where the audit is going to be, the person who prepares the room (coffee and water don't provide themselves!), the personnel who greet the auditors, the guides, the subject matter experts, the document retrievers and those who review the documents before they enter the room, the note takers, the re-filers of the documents once they've been used, the responders to the audit, the person who (re)cleans the room after the fact. Each and every part of this process takes people to make it happen, people who are too often presumed that this is "their job."

In one sense of course it is "their job". In another sense it is not fully their job, because very seldom is there a calling to servanthood on any job description, which these sorts of things require.

Gratitude is really recognition. It can be as simple as a "Thanks for all your hard work"; it can be as extensive as a reward of some nature. The reality is that means that someone recognizes the effort that was put into the end result - the effort that, if done correctly, makes the whole process appear seamless to those who do not know better.

Gratitude is a powerful thing, in some ways one of the most powerful social forces. It can cost nothing, so there is never an excuse about the price. It can be as simple as a sincere "Thanks for your hard work", so there is never an excuse about being too difficult. It can be short as a 10 second conversation, so there is never an excuse about the time.

Then why aren't people more grateful?

There are, I think, two reasons. The first is simply that people tend to be focused on themselves, on their needs. It is like our entire lives are in a restaurant where the purpose of everyone in the restaurant is to serve us. Personally. Most people don't acknowledge the Chip Guy, the Table Cleaner, even often the Server beyond the order giving and the perfunctory "Are you enjoying the dinner?" So often we view everyone around us as being here to serve us personally.

The second is a Freudian slip I made in typing this. Instead of typing "Gratitude is a powerful thing" I typed "Gratitude is a power thing". A slip, but I realized it's true. So often showing gratitude is used as a means of power in relationships. If I want something from you or I want you to notice me in the future or I want to indebt you to me, I will express gratitude. It is treated as the gratuity on the bill of life; I will tip you if I feel you have served me (again, that self focus) well, not necessarily if you have served well.

But then we wonder why communication breaks down, why people are less willing to help us, why the expectations in personal relationships becomes that of a third world dictatorship where a form of gratitude becomes the "grease" to get things done than an expression of sincere thanks.

Be different. Be radical. Today, thank people for what they've done, not as a tip for services rendered but out of a sincere gratefulness for other's do to make your life function. Never be stingy in that which costs nothing, takes little time, and is a simple (yet profound) part of every relationship.

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