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Expressing gratitude: Say thank you loud and clear - and frequently

The end of the year is a time to look back at the months behind us and reflect on our efforts and achievements. It is also a time to express gratitude to the people we work or do business with. In this blog, I will share some insights, tips, and phrases you can use to say thank you to those who have helped and supported you along the way.

Thank you note

Countless opportunities to say thank you

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the fact that Americans smile more than people from other cultures and that they are, in general, more emotionally expressive. Researchers have determined that emotional expressiveness is linked to migration and diversity and that people in diverse countries tend to show their emotions more openly and frequently.

It is therefore not surprising that Americans also express gratitude openly and frequently. They say thank you in situations where you, as a non-native English speaker, may not normally do so.

For example, here is one that really surprised me when I started teaching university in the US. Many students say, "Thank you , professor!" when class is done and they leave the seminar room. They don't just do so once at the end of the semester, but after every class or lecture. That would be quite unusual in Austria or Germany.

Thank you in everyday situations

Grocery store checkout

Below are some everyday situations where it's common in the US to say thank you:

  • At the supermarket cash register, shoppers thank the cashier for scanning their groceries and ringing them up.

  • At the doctor's office, patients thank the receptionist for checking them in and telling them to take a seat in the waiting room.

  • At the hair salon, customers thank their stylist for cutting and styling their hair.

  • At the post office, people, even after standing in line for some time, thank the clerk for accepting their package for mailing.

  • At the restaurant, diners thank the waiter for handing them the menu, bringing them beverages, serving them food, leaving the bill on the table, ...

All the people just listed above - the cashier, the receptionist, the hairstylist, the post office clerk, the waiter - say their own thank yous in the course of the interaction, loud and clear.

Expressing gratitude is a cultural norm

Explicitly thanking people who provide a service to you is considered polite and it is expected. It is a cultural norm in the US.

Expressing gratitude is also an important social skill in business. There are even workshops, presentations, and books on the topic, which highlights the importance of acquiring this skill.

Not following the norm and breaking the cultural rule can put you at a disadvantage. If you want to have positive interactions with people and build strong relationships, it makes sense to adapt your behavior (even if you feel that it is a bit over the top). Before you know it, you will have gotten used to it and find it normal, too.

Some practical tips for saying thank you

Start with a basic "Thank you"

To start with, there is the simple:

  • Thanks.

  • Thanks a lot / a bunch / a million.

  • Thank you. (More formal than "thanks".)

  • Thank you so much.

Add a compliment or other nicety

Quite often, Americans add short phrases before or after "Thanks" or "Thank you". These phrases would be appropriate when you thank a colleague or partner who did something nice for you or who helped you out in a difficult situation.

  • How thoughtful of you.

  • This means a lot.

  • You're the best.

  • I couldn't have done this without you.

  • What would I do without you.

  • You've been very helpful.

  • You did a great job.

  • Great work.

  • I owe you one. (= I owe you a favor.)

So, rather than just a simple thank you, people say,

  • Thank you! You've been very helpful.

  • How thoughtful of you! Thanks!

  • Thanks! This means a lot. I owe you one."

Show appreciation in the workplace

In the workplace, Americans often use phrases with the verb "appreciate". This word is useful for thanking colleagues, partners, but also your employees. If you're in a management position or have people working under you, it's good to show them that you value their efforts and their contributions to the team.

  • (Thanks.) I appreciate it.

  • (Thank you.) I truly appreciate what you have done.

  • I really appreciate your efforts / your contribution / your support.

  • Your efforts are much appreciated.

A few things to know about "appreciate"

  • In informal language, native speakers often shorten the sentence "I appreciate it" to "preciate it" and use it instead of "thank you".

  • You can use the verb "appreciate" to make a request and thank someone in advance for fulfilling the request: "I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me with this project."

  • Careful: "appreciate" can also take on a negative ring. Someone may use it to say that they are annoyed with a situation or behavior: "I would really appreciate it if you could stop interrupting me."

Say or write these phrases in professional contexts

If you want to thank customers or business partners and adopt a more formal tone, the following phrases may come in handy:

  • I'm so thankful for your help.

  • It was so kind of you to...

  • Thank you for your assistance with...

  • Thank you for going through the trouble of (+ -ing form, e.g. meeting us onsite to resolve the matter.).

  • I want to thank you for taking the time to ...

  • I'm extremely grateful for your help.

  • I'm immensely grateful to you for putting in so much effort.

  • I greatly appreciate your willingness to assist me in this matter.

  • Thank you ever so much for your support.

  • Thank you for your attention to this matter.

  • Please accept my deepest thanks.

  • Your support is greatly appreciated.

  • I'd like to express my appreciation for...

  • I want to show my gratitude for everything you have done by (+ -ing form, e.g. giving you this gift.)

  • I want you to know how much I value what you have done.

Three more tips for expressing gratitude

  1. Better too much than too little. If you're not sure if you should thank a person, do it. It's better to say one thank you too many than to offend someone by not thanking them. Remember: Profusely thanking people is part of the culture.

  2. Better too formal than too informal. The phrases I listed for you go from less to more formal. In business, if you are not sure about the level of formality, opt for the more formal way. You will come across as more professional. In addition, people are generally not offended by too much formality, but they may consider it inappropriate if you are too informal.

  3. Establish eye contact. In the US, you should look people in the eye when you thank them. Make sure to speak the words clearly and loudly. Mumbling and turning away will be considered insincere. Often, a thank you is also accompanied by a smile.

Note: don't wait until tomorrow

Saying thank you in a meaningful way requires the right words and the right tone. It also requires an awareness of the situation and environment, so you can choose the best way to show your appreciation. Acquiring the language and social skills of expressing gratitude is an important step in building strong connections and therefore vital for your success in the US.

If you are interested in finding out more about what it takes to be successful in the US, contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.

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