Saying Thank You

One habit that I’ve built up over the years that I count as one of my super powers is training myself to say “thank you” reflexively anytime anyone criticizes or corrects me. If I’m cooking something in the kitchen and someone says “you’re doing that wrong”, or if I’m showing someone some code I wrote at work and they say “that’s the wrong way to do that”, or if I’m speaking in Spanish and someone corrects my grammar / pronunciation / word choice, the immediate first response is always the same: “Thank you.”.

And when I say “thank you”, I actually mean it! It’s a sincere “thank you”, not a sarcastic one. (Those who know me that I loathe sarcasm generally, and always advocate for more earnestness, directness, and honesty in communication with others.)

Now, saying “thank you” to criticism or correction is of course easiest when the criticism is delivered in a kind and supportive way — the better the person is at giving criticism or feedback, the easier it is to say “thank you.” in response. However, for me at least, it’s important to say “thank you” even when the criticism isn’t delivered in the nicest way. In fact, it’s even more important to use this response when the criticism isn’t delivered optimally — when it pisses me off and when the first response that I want to give is “hey if I wanted your help I’d ask for it.”

The reflexive thank-you response does a few things:

Most importantly, it encourages people to give me more feedback — this is super important to me in pretty much all aspects of my life. I want people to tell me when I could be doing something better. I might not always agree with them, and therefore I might not actually change the way I do something, but I always want to know if someone has an idea for me. Reflexively responding with “thank you” communicates to the other party that their criticism is welcome and that I’m listening. This is especially key for me with Spanish — reflexively saying “gracias” when someone corrects my Spanish helps encourage more corrections (or, as I like to think about them, free Spanish lessons).

In cases where the tone or delivery of the criticism isn’t optimal, reflexively saying “thank you” immediately pushes the tone of the conversation towards being collaborative instead of adversarial — this is crucial in situations where it might not be obvious (or even be the case) that the other party has your best interests at heart. By declaring up front that I’m happy to receive the criticism and that I’m interested in learning from it, most of the tension or negative emotion in the conversation is immediately alleviated.

Finally, and again important in situations where the criticism isn’t especially well delivered, saying “thank you” buys me time to think more deeply about how I want to respond. It might be that I say “thank you”, pause for a beat, and respond with “but I still think I’m right for reasons x, y, and z”. The use of “thank you” both resets the tone (as described above) and gives me time to think more clearly and reasonably about my response instead of responding from a place of pure emotion / anger / frustration.

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By michael