My daughter thoughtfully passed a dish at the dining table without my prodding and I said “thank you”. She asked me why I was thanking her. I explained with all earnestness that she was very thoughtful in anticipating what I was looking for and she sent it proactively my way. My words brought a beaming yet coy smile that is unique to the growing years as a kid- a beautiful mixture of milk teeth, new teeth and missing teeth showcasing the happiness brimmed with innocence. Another time, she had wanted to know why I said “good job.” Children, in general, are inherently curious, her why questions and my because response become part of our routine– sometimes I get stumped and sometimes she partakes in parental wisdom.
While reflecting on her different “why” questions, what stuck me as odd was that she had none when I reprimanded her. That made me wonder, why? My aha moment was – I always made it crystal clear to her what I was upset about – without her asking. With that self awareness, I started noticing reactions of others, when they were angry- members of my family, friends, colleagues at work. Without exception, everybody explained in great detail the facts when they were angry!
For balance, I also started noticing happy moments – I am a big believer in a heartfelt thank you, so my antennas are naturally up when I hear the words – thank you. Most of the time, it is extremely generic thank you without facts! I found this contrast interesting and intriguing.
When we praise – we share our feelings explicitly in words and are very general when it comes to facts. When we reprimand – we share the facts in great detail with tone and pitch of voice showcasing the feelings. What happens when you flip it?
The first flip: thank you with specifics/facts.
Is there anything better than a simple thank you? To answer this question, I explored former Campbell, CEO Douglas Conant’s work – by his count, he wrote at least 30,000 thank-you notes to employees over the course of his 10-year career. Lot has been written about the handwritten notes. What is often unclear is what made them memorable – the hand written part and the thought of sending one, do get high marks. Having said that, notes like – “Thank you for your contribution as an employee” or “Thank you for your service through the years” are dime a dozen and come across as disingenuous at the minimum or half baked at best. Here is sample of his note from MIT interview article which illustrates a component in his notes that does not generate a lot of press – the specificity of his thank you.
“Thanks for your help on the solar field in Napoleon, Ohio. I understand we’re ahead of schedule. Nice job.”
A thank you is due when it is due. But, there is a beauty beyond a genuine thank you and the beauty is the specific details, big or small. Simply said, that creates the after glow.
The second flip: a reprimand
Brené Brown , author of “Daring Greatly” provides a context that is very apt for handling tough situations and possibly contrarian to what most of us are accustomed to. “It is easy to sit on sidelines and hurl advice, it takes courage to show up and let us be seen at our vulnerable best”- the essence of daring greatly. She also makes an interesting observation that trust and vulnerability go hand in hand. What better audience to be vulnerable than people we build trust everyday!
We find bosses endearing when they do not exercise positional power. When I see an angry parent with their hands on their hips, elbows out, towering over the kids, I wonder about the role flip. With children, maybe the golden alternative is to be powerfully vulnerable with bent knees. At work, it is similar except the bent knees. After all, trust evolves when we are our vulnerable best and the important moments to communicate how we feel, are during the reprimands – both at home and office.
My Flip Tale Synthesis
How we react to a good and bad moments is extremely instinctive – hardwired in our evolution and analyzing it makes me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Having said that, the insights from endeavors like the flip – being explicitly specific on what I am thankful for, on one side and explicitly expressing how I feel in words , after an uncomfortable moment, instead of the delving into the specifics -increased my satisfaction quotient immeasurably.
On the personal side, I had one of those inspired moments. Instead of reprimanding my kid after an incident, I knelt down, met her gaze and said “I feel unhappy”. I let it linger and without another word, I left the room. A little while later, she came to my bedroom – stood at the door and shared, “Daddy, I am sorry for making you feel sad.” I tossed my book aside and looked at her. She paused, moved closer and shared her remedial plan. After pouring her heart, she looked me in the eye, tentatively searching for my response – all I could muster was a heartfelt hug.
Overall, the flip has helped me tenderly cultivate more profound relationships – the one measure that matters to all of us, instinctively or otherwise. What more can one ask for in life?