There’s a new trend I’m hearing all over the place. Well, it’s not new exactly, but it’s definitely becoming more popular–and it drives me crazy. What is it? Simply this: people saying, “Thanks for everything you do.”
Now on the surface it may sound considerate. Polite even. After all, don’t we want to thank people for the ways they’ve served us, for how they worked on our behalf? Absolutely! I’m not advocating that we turn our backs on manners or refuse to acknowledge when someone has done something for us.
But the phrase as it is has four big problems we need to consider as we seek to bring honor to those around us.
Problem 1: Really? Everything?
My thought when someone first said this to me was that the person was being disingenuous. After all, our relationship wasn’t on the best ground, and I had to fight to give him the benefit of the doubt. And he wanted to thank me for everything I did?
The bad attitude I had when he disappointed me? The harsh words that sprang to my lips when I felt he treated me unfairly? The desire to put his requests to the bottom of my To Do list no matter how time-critical they may be?
See the problem? When he thanked me for everything, he didn’t really mean everything. He meant whatever I had just done to help him. Or whatever I had done recently to help someone he cared about. But that’s not what he said, which leads to the second problem.
Problem 2: It devalues the person.
When you offer someone a generic complement, it’s often because you didn’t put effort into pinning down precisely what you think.
Let’s say you are homebound after surgery and a friend drops by with milk and bread. You may be thankful for the food because you can’t get to the store. You may be thankful they took the time and exerted the energy to stop and fight the lines at the store or the traffic on the road.
Hopefully you would not be thankful for a bad attitude toward the cashier for the long line they had to wait in. Or the road rage they displayed, cutting off other drivers to reach your house two minutes sooner.
Thanks for everything is easy, but it’s lazy. It shows you can’t take a moment or two to put your thoughts together to actually praise them for what they did that caught your attention.
Value the person. Thank them specifically for how they helped you or impressed you.
Problem 3: It leads nowhere.
I had already been stewing on this post for several weeks when I picked up John Townsend’s newest book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way. Forty pages in, I ran across this gem:
“You are amazing!”
“You are just awesome!”
… Our culture is awash in these exaggerations that have roughly the same value as an empty calorie. Both yield insignificant benefits. Our brains have buckets where information goes. Praise should go in the right bucket: the bucket of hard work, of being kind, of being honest, of being vulnerable. But the brain has no appropriate bucket for such nonspecific, excessive statements, and therefore is unable to make constructive use of them.
In other words, you are wasting your breath and my time. And it leads to perhaps the greatest danger and biggest problem.
Problem 4: The person could run with it.
What if I grabbed hold of your statement and ran with it. Let’s say you owned a blog and asked me to write a post for you. I turned it in, and you sent an email that said, “This is great! Thanks for all you do!”
Then I submit an article to a national magazine and it gets rejected. I could default back to your statement of appreciation and jump to the conclusion that the editor of the magazine is biased. Or unfair. Or an idiot.
Even if my writing skill is not up to the level the editor is seeking. Or the topic wasn’t suitable for his audience. Or I failed to follow the instructions posted on the website to properly submit an article.
That sounds extreme, but it happens all the time. When I was growing up, parents were told that they should never be discouraging to their children so they wouldn’t damage their self esteem. Have you ever watched the opening few shows of any of the talent shows? How many times have you seen someone who believed they were great get slammed by the judges with the reality of their skill, or rather lack of skill?
And how many times did you see them or family members standing in a back room slam the judges for being biased. Or unfair. Or idiots.
The bottom line is that it really doesn’t take much to offer appreciation. We all need acknowledgment from others that we are doing well, are on the right path, or are making progress, so don’t hold back!
Just be specific in your praise so it does the good you intend.