When was the last time you really, actually thanked someone for what they do for you? Chris Cottam asks.

We are all suckers for power in one form or another. I’m not talking physical, political, militaristic or super powers… that’s a whole different bag of hammers. I’m talking about the personal growth, inspirational, self discovery genre of powers. To break you in gently, we all believe in the power of love right? It’s preached to us through inspirational quotations on Instagram and blasted through radios by Huey Lewis and zapped into us through rose quartz crystals. If it’s not the power of love that tickles your aura it could be the two million of us who read The Power of Now; teaching us to live in the present and yada yada. Perhaps you’re one of the crowd that went for The Power of Habit in the hope of rectifying where you might be going wrong and how you might start going right. Maybe it’s the Power of Positive Thinking, or the Power of Vulnerability, The Power of Rest and Retreat, or Unleashing The Power Within or perhaps it’s Accessing the Power of the Vagus Nerve. Yeah, I had to look that up too… I had no idea and it’s not what you think.

The thing about these books is that they are all introspective which is fair enough. After all it’s in the title: ‘Self’ Help. It’s the multi-million dollar genre that helps us look inwards in order to fix whatever powerlessness we feel. The self help genre is there to make us feel better about ourselves. What I want to dig into is ‘Selfless’ Help. Granted it’s a small genre but one that I believe has greater impact than all the above books put together. Within the genre of Selfless Help lies The Power of Thanks.
We all say thanks don’t we? Thanks to someone opening the door for us, thanks to someone getting us a cup of tea, thanks for getting me that thing over there. It’s part of the rhythm of conversation when we work together, it’s embedded into us as kids as a ‘magic word’ to teach politeness and social grace. It’s a good habit and it’s one that oils the cogs of a work environment rather nicely. It’s not a desperate requirement but every little helps.

Then there is the collective thanks that we give. Whether it’s standing outside and clapping for the NHS or nodding our heads in agreement as we watch a television commercial shoehorn a heartfelt pandemic ‘thank you’ into a car insurance or bank ad. I’m not being a cynic and I’m sure it’s well intentioned but all it does is say the thanks so that we don’t have to. If we’re honest, we feel that just because we’ve watched the ad or spent a minute outside clapping that we’ve somehow dialled in our own personal thanks. But it’s not a replacement for actually saying thank you to someone who deserves it.

Have a little think… take a moment and consider if you have actually said thanks, like properly said thanks, mano a mano to those people you come into contact with regularly which, outside family, are those people you work with. Can you pinpoint that moment the last time you said ‘Thanks’, or ‘Thank you’, or ‘Thank you very much’ to someone face to face, eye to eye and actually meant it. Did you deliver it without self-consciousness? Did you give it a beat after you said it to let the thanks just sink in for a moment? Did you turn away halfway through it? I’m guessing you probably did. The only people that don’t do that when they say thanks are Tom Hanks and Evangelists. There is something creepy about looking someone in the eye and saying thanks. But is it creepy or is it just because we don’t like the authenticity of a genuine feeling?

Now think about when someone genuinely said thanks to you. Properly. Perhaps they put a hand on your shoulder. Perhaps they said ‘I really appreciate that, thank you’. You’re imagining that now and I know it made you feel good. If you can’t imagine it then perhaps you’ve not been on the receiving end of a genuine thank you, which is kind of my point.

The creative industries are crawling with grand gestures, praise, awards and back slapping but something it generally lacks is thanks, and when thanks are in evidence it’s generally to those above us, those who perhaps hold the purse strings or influence. What about those that are keeping you afloat in your day to day progress? Those people that help you maintain your status and success? Colin Hart, the founder and ECD of The Public House in Dublin says, “my theory about ‘thanks’ is that it elevates work from functional ‘getting stuff done’ to a slightly more emotional aspect where we help people feel stuff about work.”

The American computer scientist Randy Pausch said that “showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.” His life was cut short by pancreatic cancer, and in his last few months he gave a lecture about fulfilling your dreams. In that lecture he tells the story of taking the young students that were assisting him in his research lab for a weekend away of partying and fun. On his return, one of his colleagues asked him, “did you pay for that entire trip on your own dime? That must have cost some!” Randy freely admits that it did. His response was that “these guys work day and night to help me so that I can keep the job I’m doing for life. How could I not do it?”

Randy Pausch is the shining example of workplace gratitude which some of you may baulk at but let’s use it as an inspirational springboard. I want to propose three areas where we could all do better; people that often go unnoticed, people who you work closely with and people who pitch to you.

Now I’m not being Mr Preachy Pants here but just thank those people that often go unnoticed on the team and use their name. The boy on reception, the girl that gets your coffee, the person that always seems to be cleaning up for you and after you. They don’t need a weekend away with you, that would be super weird, but every so often just a pause in your hectic routine and an unrushed, focused and authentic thank you is an easy gift. If you do this every once in a while I can guarantee they will continue taking messages for you and not spit in your iced latte. And use their name. They have one.

Secondly, on to those people that prop you up; your crew, your team. Workhuman.com are a company specifically centred around ‘human connections that build resilient, high-performing teams.’ The SVP Derek Irvine says that “showing gratitude reminds employees that they are not struggling alone. We found that there is a connection between appreciation and employees’ performance at work. At least 31% of survey respondents said that gratitude increases their motivation to succeed, and one quarter said that it increases their productivity.” Did you hear that? ‘Thanks’ makes your business more productive! It’s a FACT! So when we get back to some sense of normal maybe have a team dinner, buy them a pint, take them for lunch or just tell them that you appreciate them and do it in your own time and on your own dime. Don’t expense it and don’t expect anything in return.

Ellie Bonner, a production co-ordinator at television commercial production company Chief has an even better solution: “the best thank you is more responsibility. Being given more responsibility in this industry is the highest form of praise. It involves somebody acknowledging your hard work and being good at your job and offering you a chance to progress.”
Finally, those people who pitch you work. This is the bread and butter of our creative world. As an agency, a production company or a director we all give up our own precious time just to have the chance to work. We are in the business of ‘winning’ our work and not just being given our work. If someone has taken the time to pitch to you, which means time, which in turn means money and also means the risk of that effort not coming to fruition, then fucking thank them. I dropped the f-bomb there, now THAT’S how important I think it is. As the Public House’s Colin Hart says: “If you want people to feel passionate about working with you, you’ll need to acknowledge that passion went into it.”

So there we have it. It’s hardly headline news but maybe that’s the point, it’s not a big revelation that we should say thanks is it? As we gingerly approach our reconnection with the real world, let’s recalibrate how we treat each other and perhaps we’ll see the benefits. Production co-ordinator Ellie Bonner puts it best: “Manners cost nothing and it’s always the people who are polite, thankful and kind that stick out in your memory and ultimately you end up wanting to run through brick walls for.”

Written by Chris Cottam

This article was first published on Little Black Book Online.