Is “Thank You” Killing Your Collaboration?
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the famed Hamilton writer, is also responsible for the incredible music in Disney’s Moana. In one memorable, character-building song,the demigod Maui boasts his track record to young Moana. He wrongly assumes that she should be grateful and sings “you’re welcome” over and over again. It’s both hilarious and embarrassing, because she’s not thanking him at all. At the end of the song, he locks her away in a cave because he thinks that she will get in his way, not realizing the amazing powers she has. In fact, the list of his accomplishments is impressive! But his self-perception is so wrong.
Maui’s character is not far off from some “leaders” you may know. They toot their own horn, fail to recognize key team members and shut others down without realizing the potential of team members who may be lower in the organization’s hierarchy.
This scene had me thinking about how we appreciate and recognize others, and reflecting on when is the appropriate time to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” The way a leader uses (or doesn’t use!) “thank you,” has a massive impact on their success as a collaborator. As we go through a few examples, think back to the past week and where they may have had an opportunity to respond differently. Your awareness of the power of these phrases will lead you to wield it intentionally.
A good way to use “thank you” is in collaborative meetings. When people are brainstorming or sharing ideas, a typical response from a leader is the validating “that is a great idea!” when hearing one that they approve of. The intentions are good, and will undoubtedly move things along. The leader is helping the group see through all of the ideas and find the best one, right?
Wrong. If you’re looking for a truly collaborative meeting, the minute you say “awesome idea” to one person, the rest of the ideas suddenly become “less than.” It becomes pointless to contribute new ideas too, because the “boss” already picked one. That’s usually not the leader’s intention, but that is the outcome. A different and simple way to respond so that you continue to get great ideas is with a simple “thank you” after each reply, even if you think the idea sucks. In fact, it’s more important that you don’t shame the person whose idea you think is horrible. If you do, everyone else will be more hesitant and you’ll miss out on the best ideas.
Now, saying “thank you” is also a way to appreciate people. Most people say it many times a day. There is an intentional practice of saying “thank you” in meetings that helps spark stronger collaboration. It’s called “Appreciations.” It’s a specific thank you. Not just “thanks to the whole team for your help with that project.” It takes the phrase a step further and asks you to be specific, both in the person that you appreciate and in describing what the person did. My mentor would take this to a whole new level and would hold the person’s attention with her body language or literally with her hands and look into their eyes and say “thank you.” It was awkward, but the appreciation left you feeling good and stayed with you long past the moment. This can be an energy-inducing way to kick off or close company meetings, retrospectives, or quarterly planning.
As my mentor would say, if you’re on the receiving end of this appreciation, the appropriate response is “thank you,” not ”oh, it was nothing” like I tried a couple of times.
Become hyper aware of the positive impact of an intentional “thank you.” Look for an opportunity in your calendar for a meeting to start with appreciations or where you’ll be brainstorming and use thank you. You’ll be luck if you miss a Maui moment. You’re welcome! ;)