THE BLOG

Two Little Words That Can Make All the Difference!

03/12/2014 12:22 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2014

One of the many aspects of my job that I really enjoy is the opportunity to engage in keynote speaking and workshop facilitation. Although managing conflict has always been popular, lately, a topic which has received even more interest from prospective clients is the impact of creating a respectful workplace.

This increased focus is not that surprising when you examine the available evidence. Christine Pearson and Christine Porath have conducted extensive research into the extent and associated costs of incivility within our workplaces. Their analyses indicate that workplace incivility doubled within a seven-year period, with their most recent data showing that one in four employees in North America witness an act of disrespectful behavior every single day.

What is especially fascinating about their research is that the forms of disrespectful behavior that people highlighted might be seen by some as pretty inconsequential. One such example was "not saying thank you." Although some people may wonder whether this type of social nicety still has its place in a 140-character world, recent research conducted by Professors Adam Grant and Francesco Gino demonstrates the timeless relevance of this practice.

Will you help me?

In their first experiment, participants were asked to review a cover letter submitted by a university student named 'Eric.' Once they were finished, they were asked to email him their comments and suggestions. Shortly thereafter, 'Eric' reached out to each of the participants, once again with another request for help.

However, there were two different follow-up emails sent. In the first condition, 'Eric' thanked the participants for reviewing his cover letter before asking for his next favor. In the second case, 'Eric' just asked for another feedback, without bothering to thank the person for their initial assistance.

Not surprisingly, whether or not 'Eric' thanked the participants had a significant impact on their willingness to help. In fact, twice as many people (66 percent) who were thanked by 'Eric' agreed to help him a second time, compared to those who did not receive a 'thank you' (32 percent).

What was especially interesting about this research was the impact Eric's behavior had on future requests for help from others. In a second study, Grant and Gino provided the exact same scenario as in the first. Once again, two groups were created,, with one group receiving a follow-up "thank you" note from Eric, while the other did not.

In this case, the day after Eric's follow-up email, the participant received a new request for help from a different student who was looking for feedback on his cover letter. Once again, Eric's actions significantly impacted their willingness to help another person. For those who were thanked by Eric, 55 percent agreed to help out the new student with their cover letter. However, only one-quarter of those in the "thankless" group were willing to volunteer to offer assistance.

Pay it forward

Anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that our workplaces are becoming increasingly uncivil. As individuals, we may feel overwhelmed with regards to how we can make things better. We may feel it is beyond our scope of influence (e.g., it is part of our organizational/societal culture). This sentiment is often accompanied by an exasperated acceptance of defeat, as it seems the problem is too big to solve. However, the above research suggests that we may be more powerful than we think.

Saying a simple "thank you" can profoundly affect our own lives as well as the lives of others. Like the "butterfly effect", these words and actions spread out into the world around us.

In closing, I would like to say "thank you" to the readers of this and previous columns. I encourage you to share your personal and professional stories below that exhibit the power of saying (or not saying) thank you.