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Two Magic Words - Thank You!

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Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude. Not an abstraction, gratitude is a genuine emotion. It cannot be exacted or forced. You either feel it or you don't. Yet, when someone does something nice for you, they expect gratitude and they think less of you for withholding it. Think about the last time you gave someone a gift. If they didn't say thank you, how did you feel about them? Great person? Or ungrateful S.O.B.?

When someone gives you a gift, you wouldn't say, "Stinky gift!" "Bad gift!" or "I already have this stupid gift!" (Unless you are a real jerk.) You would say, "Thank you." If you can use the gift, use it. If you don't want to use it, put it in the closet and "let it go."

Similarly when you receive suggestions from your key stakeholders on how you can become a more effective leader, you can look at these suggestions as gifts--and treat your stakeholders as gift-givers. Just as you would not insult the person who is trying to be nice to you by giving you a gift, when your stakeholders give you ideas, you don't want to insult them or their ideas. You want to learn to just say, "Thank you."

I teach my clients to ask their key stakeholders for suggestions on how they can become more effective leaders, to listen to these ideas, think about the suggestions, to try out what makes sense--keep doing what works--and let go of what does not work.

We cannot promise to do everything that people suggest we should do. We can promise to listen to our key stakeholders, think about their ideas, and do what we can. This is all that we can promise - and this is all that they expect.

This works at work - in your efforts to become a better leader, team member, or co-worker.

This works at home - in your efforts to become a better friend or family member.

Who do you need to ask, "How can I become a better ...?" How do you typically respond to suggestions? Do you treat them as gifts - or do you critique them and the person making them?

Our natural tendency when others give suggestions we don't agree with is to immediately become defensive and prove they are wrong. Our natural tendency when others give suggestions we do agree with is to point out that we "already knew that," implying that the suggestion is unnecessary.

The next time someone gives you an idea or counsel, listen without judgment, try to find value in what you're hearing, and just say: "Thank you!"

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Please view the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog. The next short video in the series Leadership Is a Contact Sport: Thank accompanies this article. I'll post these blogs once a week for the next 50 weeks. The series will incorporate learnings from my 38 years of experience with top executives, as well as material from my previous research, articles and books, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There, MOJO, Coaching for Leadership, and Succession: Are You Ready? The blogs will also include material from my exciting new research on engagement and my upcoming book Triggers (to be published by Crown in 2015).