Why You Should Always Send a Thank-You Note

thank-you note
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As a kid, you were taught to say “thank you” when appropriate. As an adult, you were told to send a thank-you note after an interview. But, if you’re like most people, you might be underestimating the difference expressing gratitude can make in your professional life.

It’s important to say thank you at work — probably more than you know, according to recent research. The study showed that people tend to underestimate the value of expressing gratitude. This can have negative consequences in the workplace and elsewhere.

the impact of expressing gratitude

The study was coauthored by Amit Kumar, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago. Participants for this study were either pulled from a randomized sample from Amazon Mechanical Turk or were current MBA students.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they asked participants to write a letter of gratitude to someone they felt deserved it. Then, they were asked to rank how they thought the recipient would feel upon receiving the thank-you letter on three separate scales: happiness, surprise and awkwardness.

They found that the participants largely underestimated how much recipients would appreciate their letters. Participants guessed that they’d respond, on average, at about a two-and-a-half or three on a scale of one to five for happiness. However, the recipients largely rated themselves as a five on this scale. Participants also anticipated that recipients would view their letters as being more awkward than they actually did. The recipients of the letters sometimes felt surprised to get them, but they did not deem the gesture as awkward.

Saying thank you has a more positive impact than most people know. If they were more aware of how their expressed gratitude was received, perhaps delivering it would become more common practice.

“Wise decisions are guided by an accurate assessment of the expected value of action” the abstract of the study states. “Underestimating the value of prosocial actions, such as expressing gratitude, may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own—and others’—well-being.”

a positive impact on all parties

Expressing gratitude doesn’t just make the person who’s on the receiving end feel good. It’s beneficial to the person who expresses it, too.

“This whole line of research started with the understanding that recognition and positive social connections with others are the primary factors that make people feel really good,” Epley told Quartz at Work. “But even though there are plenty of opportunities for positive social connections in life, people often don’t take them.”

Other researchers have also found that expressing gratitude is a mood booster. Positive psychology links gratitude strongly and consistently with greater happiness. It asserts that expressing gratitude encourages positive emotions. And, it can even improve health, and help people build relationships and cope with adversity.

“Expressing gratitude improves well-being for both expressers and recipients,” the abstract continues, “but we suggest that an egocentric bias may lead expressers to systematically undervalue its positive impact on recipients in a way that could keep people from expressing gratitude more often in everyday life.”

So, take the time to say thank you more often at work. You should also send thank-you notes after interviews. The gesture isn’t old-fashioned – this research validates its meaningfulness.

Furthermore, consider sending notes of appreciation at other times as well. Taking a few minutes to thank a manager or a coworker for their support could be beneficial to your well-being. Doing so could also help to support your career. Don’t underestimate the impact.

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