Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's not "nothing" -- Accepting gratitude

A friend and I were discussing the point that effective communication is most likely to occur when the other person feels that you understand his or her situation. This is an underlying premise of negotiation theory: You are more likely to be successful at a negotiation when you understand the other person's underlying interests and when you make it clear to that person that you do. To do otherwise, whether in negotiations or other settings, is likely to lead to speaking at a person, rather than to the person. Not because you mean to, but because the other person will not value what you say, compared to when they think you really "get it."

One of the things I learned in my hospital days was how to accept gratitude. A hospital can be an uncomfortable place for patients and family members. It is a strange physical environment, where people are anxious because of feared or actual medical conditions or forthcoming procedures or tests. In that situation, when you do something kind for someone, the person is truly grateful. It can be as simple as offering directions, or picking up a fallen object, or something much more serious.

When I started working in the hospital, when someone would say "Thank you" to me, I would often answer, "It's nothing," or "No problem." Wrong! I was taught that such an answer devalues the gratitude that the other person is feeling. A more appropriate response is, "It is my pleasure," or "I am so pleased I was able to help." That indicates that you understand their feelings.

Over the years, I trained myself to do this. Lo and behold, once I got rid of the "It's nothing" conversation stopper, people would jump in and continue the conversation even further. I was able to learn so much more about people's fears, expectations, experiences, and hopes and then help translate those into improvements in the clinical environment.

Try it. It's not "nothing."


Paul Levy said...

From Facebook:

Nice post, Paul.

Wow. Right when I thought that saying "it's nothing" is a way to diminish me, in deference to someone else, I learned that it actually diminishes them. This is a keeper.

I'm not sure when I learned that "(it's) my pleasure" worked better than "no problem", but it is a so much more effective way of getting the response I want, a smile.

Thanks for the reminder Paul. Well said!

Paul, you are really something! Thanks for this post.

Ditto Paul - great post! Thank you very much.

Serena said...

From Facebook:

Excellent post. Thanks! I am going to try it!!

Barry Carol said...

Another nice thing about handling gratitude properly is that it costs nothing and, as you note, sometimes pays dividends.

Anonymous said...

Barry, spoken like a true analyst! :)


Bradley Jobling said...

Language is so important in so many ways. This is some great advice.

I also always learned that you are not supposed to make assumptions about other people's feelings but only describe thins as how you see it, clearly stating that it is your opinion.

I love stuff like this and thanks for the post.

Dr. Joe said...

Well thought out and well put as always.

In my executive coaching practice, I emphasize humility and competence as two sides of the same coin. Downplaying your own competencies isn't real humility - it is rather, as you say, a convenient conversation-stopper. The only way to be genuinely humble, and to allow productive communication, is to acknowledge and take some pride in your own achievements.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What an eye-opener. Thank you, Paul. I myself have long been of the "no problem" or "don't mention it" school myself......without ever realizing how it would make the other person feel. And you are absolutely correct that "accepting gratitude" is not so easy....and *why* is that? Why do we find it so hard, so embarrassing that someone might want to thank us for a random (or not so random) act of kindness? Thank you again for this eye-opener!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Paul. Great post!