Gratitude: The Relational Elixir

Very skilled social capitalists often receive attention for the really clever, grand activities they incorporate into their work life, everything from the organizational systems they implement to the fancy parties they throw. In the context of these elaborate strategies talk of something like the power of expressing gratitude can seem so small and so overblown — until you read the research.

Want a quick booster shot to immediately improve a relationship? A minor thankful gesture, according to the following study, has a transformative impact:

This research was conducted to examine the hypothesis that expressing gratitude to a relationship partner enhances one’s perception of the relationship’s communal strength. In Study 1 (N = 137), a cross-sectional survey, expressing gratitude to a relationship partner was positively associated with the expresser’s perception of the communal strength of the relationship. In Study 2 (N = 218), expressing gratitude predicted increases in the expresser’s perceptions of the communal strength of the relationship across time. In Study 3 (N = 75), participants were randomly assigned to an experimental condition, in which they expressed gratitude to a friend, or to one of three control conditions, in which they thought grateful thoughts about a friend, thought about daily activities, or had positive interactions with a friend. At the end of the study, perceived communal strength was higher among participants in the expression-of-gratitude condition than among those in all three control conditions. We discuss the theoretical and applied implications of these findings and suggest directions for future research. (Source: “Benefits of Expressing Gratitude, Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Changes One’s View of the Relationship” from Psychological Science.)

Gratitude doesn’t just immediately improve a relationship, it can make it more productive. Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, covers another study on the power of “thank you” in the workplace:

The simple act of having a boss come by and offer a public thanks to one group, and but not the other, really packed a wallop.  These fundraisers were paid a fixed salary, so Grant and Gino compared the number of phone calls made be each fundraiser before and after the “thank you” intervention.  The results were pretty impressive, as while there was no change in the average number of calls made by the group that was not offered thanks, the folks who heard a warm two sentence thank you from a boss made an average of about 50% more calls during the subsequent week. (Source: “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.)

Piling up daily small interpersonal wins with seemingly trivial gestures is the social capitalist’s bread and butter.

Tahl Raz is the host of myGreenlight’s Social Capitalist Series.

Comments (4)

  1. The only caution I would raise is that e-thanks may not pack the same power. My boss sends plenty of thanks our way and I’m not sure it gets him where he needs to go.

  2. I think that expressing gratitude creates an effect and offers others the energy to feel more involved and committed to their work. It allows the energy to share the passion at a cause. Thank you!

  3. Plus it feels good to express it! I find it gives me a sort of buzz. Yesterday for example I had a number of strangers do little things for me like move out of my way as I rode my bike, shift on the sidewalk to allow me and all my bags to get by and then someone held a door for me even tho I was far back. To everyone that did these things I said thank you then I found myself saying thank you through out the rest day – finding more reasons to say it. It started a “thank you” domino effect. And it changed my mood. I even thought what would it be like if I committed to saying thank you 10 times a day? Then I wake up to read your post! So THANK YOU Tahl. You’re my first thank you of the day. 9 more to go! :)

  4. Pingback: myGreenlight Blog Roundup « Keith Ferrazzi

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