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!”
Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).