I don’t say “Thank You” as often as I should and I doubt I’m the only one.
In fact, I’m starting to believe that “Thank You” is the most under-appreciated and under-used phrase on the planet. It is appropriate in nearly any situation and it is a better response than most of the things we say. Let’s cover 7 common situations when we say all sorts of things, but should say “Thank You” instead. 1
1. When you’re receiving a compliment.
We often ruin compliments by devaluing the statement or acting overly humble. Internally, you might think this prevents you from appearing arrogant or smug.
The problem is that by deflecting the praise of a genuine compliment, you don’t acknowledge the person who was nice enough to say something. Simply saying “Thank You” fully acknowledges the person who made the compliment and allows you to enjoy the moment as well.
Example: “Your dress looks great.”
- Instead of: “Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for years.”
- Try saying: “Thank you. I’m glad you like it.”
Example: “Wow! 20 points tonight. You played really well in the game.”
- Instead of: “Yeah, but I missed that wide-open shot in the 3rd quarter.”
- Try saying: “Thank you. It was a good night.”
Example: “You killed your presentation today!”
- Instead of: “Did I? I felt so nervous up there. I’m glad it looked alright.”
- Try saying: “Thank you. I’m happy it went well.”
There is something empowering about fully accepting a compliment. When you deflect praise, you can’t really own it. When you just say “Thank You,” you let the weight of the compliment sink in and become yours. Saying “Thank You” gives your mind permission to be built up by the compliments you receive.
Getting compliments should be fun and enjoyable, but we often ruin the experience. There’s no need to sabotage compliments that come your way. Accept them with grace and enjoy the moment. 2
2. When you’re running late.
Being late is the worst. It’s stressful for the person who is running late and it’s disrespectful to the person who is waiting.
It might seem strange to thank someone for dealing with your hassle, but that’s exactly the correct response. Most people stumble in the door and say, “Sorry I’m late.”
The problem is this response still makes the situation about you. Sorry, I’m late. Saying “Thank You” turns the tables and acknowledges the sacrifice the other person made by waiting. Thank you for waiting. 3
Example: You walk in the door 14 minutes late.
- Instead of: “So sorry I’m late. Traffic was insane out there.”
- Try saying: “Thank you for your patience.”
When we make a mistake, someone else often makes a sacrifice. Our default response is to apologize for our failure, but the better approach is to praise their patience and loyalty. Thank them for what they did despite your error.
3. When you’re comforting someone.
When someone comes to you with bad news, it can be awkward. You want to be a good friend, but most people don’t know what to say. I know I’ve felt that way before.
Often times, we think it’s a good idea to add a silver lining to the problem. “Well, at least you have…”
What we fail to realize is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say. All you really need is to be present and thank them for trusting you.
Example: Your co-worker’s mother passed away recently.
- Instead of: “At least you have a lot of fond memories to hold onto.”
- Try saying: “Thank you for sharing that with me. I know this is a hard time for you.”
Example: Your brother lost his job.
- Instead of: “At least you have your health.”
- Try saying: “Thank you for sharing this with me. I’m here to support you.”
Example: Your friend’s pet just died.
- Instead of: “At least they had a long and happy life.”
- Try saying: “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m here for you.”
In times of suffering, we don’t need to hear words to ease the pain as much as we need someone to share our pain. When you don’t know what to say, just say “Thank You” and be there.
4. When you’re receiving helpful feedback.
Feedback can be very helpful, but we rarely see it that way. Whether it is an unflattering performance review from your boss or an email from an unhappy customer, the standard reaction is to get defensive. That’s a shame because the correct response is to simply say, “Thank You” and use the information to improve.
Example: “This work isn’t good enough. I thought you would do better.”
- Instead of: “You don’t understand. Here’s what really happened.”
- Try saying: “Thank you for expecting more of me.”
Example: “I bought your product last week and it already broke. I am not happy with this experience.”
- Instead of: “How did you use it? We made it very clear in our terms and conditions that the product is not designed to work in certain conditions.“
- Try saying: “Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please know we are committed to becoming better. Can you share more details about the issue?”
5. When you’re receiving unfair criticism.
Sometimes criticism isn’t helpful at all. It’s just vindictive and mean. I’ve written about how to deal with haters previously, but one of the best approaches is to just say thank you and move on.
When you thank someone for criticizing you, it immediately neutralizes the power of their statements. If it’s not a big deal to you, then it can’t grow into a larger argument.
Example: “This might be good advice for beginners, but anyone who knows what they are doing will find this useless.”
- Instead of: “Well, clearly, I wrote this for beginners. This might be a surprise, but not everything was written with you in mind.”
- Try saying: “Thank you for sharing your opinion. I’ll try to improve next time.”
Example: “Your statement is the dumbest thing I’ve read all week.”
- Instead of: “You’re an idiot. Let me tell you why…”
- Try saying: “Thank you for the feedback. I still have a lot to learn.”
Releasing the need to win every argument is a sign of maturity. Someone on the internet said something wrong? So what. Win the argument by the way you live your life.
6. When someone gives you unsolicited advice.
This shows up a lot in the gym. Everybody has an opinion about what your technique should look like. I think most people are just trying to be helpful, but hearing someone’s opinion about you when you didn’t ask for it can be annoying.
One time, someone pointed out some flaws in my squat technique in a video I posted online. I responded by sarcastically asking if he had a video of himself doing it correctly. Somewhere deep in my mind, I assumed that if I reminded him that his technique wasn’t perfect, then I would feel better about the fact that mine wasn’t perfect either. That’s an unnecessary and defensive response.
The better approach? Just say “Thank You.”
Example: “You know, you should really keep your hips back when you do that exercise.”
- Instead of: “Oh really? Do you have a video of yourself doing it so I can see it done correctly?”
- Try saying: “Thank you for the help.”
Pointing out others faults doesn’t remove your own. Thank people for raising your self-awareness, even if it was unsolicited.
7. When you’re not sure if you should thank someone.
When in doubt, just say thank you. There is no downside. Are you honestly worried about showing too much gratitude to the people in your life?
“Should I send a Thank You card in this situation?” Yes, you should.
“Should I tip him?” If you don’t, at least say thank you.
Say thank you, more often.
- Life Lessons: Stories to Help You Live Better
- The Best Self-Help Books
- Stay on the Bus: The Proven Path to Doing Unique Work
The idea for this post was sparked by reading, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It’s an excellent book.
Thanks to my high school religion teacher, the good ‘ol Mr. Flynn for teaching me this one. And to Derek Sivers, for his article on the topic.
I came across this example while reading a great post titled, “Stop Saying Sorry and Say Thank You Instead.”
I think it is worth noting that whenever I’m feeling defensive, I also find it useful to pull myself back to center and maintain perspective by reminding myself of this quote from Epictetus, “If a man has reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you do not make any defense to what has been told you, but reply, “The man did not know the rest of my faults for he would not have mentioned these only.”