Shot of two businessmen shaking hands at work Image Credit: Getty Images

A caring gesture, a thoughtful act or kind words can make someone’s day. However, most of us are guilty of forgetting to thank someone for a positive experience. Oftentimes this is because we underestimate the response to such an act and overestimate the reaction of the recipient who, we feel, may be embarrassed by such a gesture.

A recent study by psychologists at Austin, Texas, has found that people totally miscalculate the effect of appreciation and the positive feelings it evokes. In my experience, appreciation of my efforts or work has touched me to the core. I think I would have felt embarrassed or uncomfortable if I thought that the person complimenting me was not sincere or was going overboard with the words of praise.

More often than not, we feel unappreciated simply because no one seems to have noticed how much we are putting into a certain task or job. This is especially true at the workplace. Just a few words of thanks for a task well done can make all the difference to the many workers who toil without hope of recognition.

It is a known fact that the expression of gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression or feelings of resentment, apart from improving self-esteem and physical health. This is a simple solution to create a happier workforce. Words of encouragement generate social capital as it makes the person who is being appreciated feel a sense of worth and makes him or her a nicer, happier being, which is important to make the workplace a more enjoyable place.

But the problem is that the right words don’t come easy to those who need to say them, whose appreciation would make a difference to the person who needs encouragement and motivation.

Very often, when someone has had enough of being taken for granted, decides to call it quits and tenders his resignation after much soul searching, he hears the words that he has always wanted to hear. He is told that he has been doing a great job (how was he to know this if he was never told?) and that he is an asset to the company. He listens in disbelief as all his sterling qualities are listed and gasps with shock when he is told to reconsider his decision. But it is too little too late. If only the appreciation had been expressed earlier during his long tenure at the company.

Greater happiness

In positive psychology research, gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness. Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find their employees more motivated to work even harder.

I have noticed that when I have paid someone a sincere compliment, their reaction has been to brush it off or ask sarcastically what I want from them. This is usually a knee jerk response to cover their embarrassment. So, why do we feel embarrassed? Is it because we have been wired from childhood not to expect appreciation?

Gratitude does not come easily to many of us. Yet, how often and how easily we thank a stranger for a considerate gesture or the delivery man at our doorstep. Somehow it doesn’t occur to us to show our appreciation to those at home or the people we work with in proximity for the better part of the day. We so often fail to express our thanks to those who make a difference in our lives. Perhaps we assume that they know how we feel and therefore there is no need to state the obvious.

Maybe it is time to make our feelings known and we just might be surprised at the favourable reaction.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.