A few months ago I needed to do some heavy-duty research into a specialised subject area for a piece of fiction I was writing. I was having trouble on the Internet because my search results were so scattered I could find no definitive answer to the questions I was posing. Consequently, I rang up a librarian who headed up a research library in this particular field of study and made an appointment to see her. She asked me to submit my questions to narrow down the search, which I did, and then went to visit the library a week later.
Low and behold, when I arrived I found a bunch of photocopied articles and a dozen post-it noted books waiting for me in a pile. Not only that, but she sat down and spent considerable time showing me references that would help justify the fictional premise I had created for the story. I spent about half a day in that library, and this wonderful person saved me days and days of research.
During a break, I went out and bought a variety pack of macarons (Adriano Zumbo’s to be precise – I was not going to skimp on quality!) and brought them back as a little gift for the librarian and her friendly off-sider. They were absolutely delighted and ate them with relish for afternoon tea. Later on when I returned home, I instantly sent them a gorgeously embellished thank you card that expressed my appreciation for their kindness.
It came to be that my relationship with the librarian did not cease after I had completed my research. A few months later I realised that the piece I had written was factually and technically delicate and I dearly wanted an expert to look over the piece. I rang her up and asked her if she would mind reading over the material and correcting any inaccuracies if they came up.
The librarian didn’t remember my name. I was not offended because I knew she would have seen hundreds of people since my initial visit. However, when I mentioned the macarons, she instantly put a face and story to my name, and then told me she had received the thank you card and indeed it would be fine for me to email her the piece, which I promptly did. She returned it within 24 hours with some notes, which were terrific, and then helped with some idioms and linguistic aspects of the story as well. Again I was grateful. Who would have thought that some macarons and a thank you note would have kept the door open for an extended favour but there you have it.
I was brought up in a European household where expressing appreciation for a kindness through a thank you card, food, flowers, a bottle of wine or another gift was a courtesy we extended to friends, family and strangers. Thoughtfulness and helpfulness never went unanswered.
On the other hand, there have been several people in my professional and personal life who I have gone out of the way for, had spent countless hours counseling and encouraging, or to whom I sent beautifully chosen personal gifts for birthdays and other special occasions who didn’t extend the courtesy of a simple verbal thank you. I was quite taken aback and hurt on some of these occasions, and spoke to a coaching professional about my reaction. He told me the sad fact is that in life there are users / takers and then there are the givers, and one had to learn the difference. Needless to say, where I discovered this non-reciprocity to be a pattern, I gradually let my relationships with people who fit the criteria of users gradually fade away.
It is important to understand that when we do something nice for somebody else we are starting a transaction. We also have normal human psychological need to have that transaction closed with a simple thank you. If this happens, as it should, then all is well in the universe and things can flow gently back and forth between one person and the other, give and take. If this does not happen, the person who extended the favour will be left hanging with a feeling they are being taken for granted.
If you do not extend a thank you to somebody who has done you a good service, no matter how seemingly small or large, then you will be earmarked as rude and perhaps even somebody who has a sense of entitlement, which are both unflattering qualities to be endowed with.
So how can you show your appreciation to people who have extended kindnesses to you or helped you move forward in the world? Here are five simple tips to help you show professional appreciation:
If you are a thankful person you will create a feeling of warm and fuzziness, and the doorway between you and your thankee will invariably remain open.
If you are a thankless person then take heed, you will soon lose the good will of others, doors will close and you may be left out in the cold.
© Julie Ditrich, 2014
Originally published in Comics Masterclass Spotlight (Vol 1. No 11, Oct 2014).