The Lost Art of Saying “You’re Welcome”

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The topic of this article was supposed to be about giving thanks. The convergence of the holidays, family, friends, Christmas music and smoked turkey puts most people in the mindset of making sure to remember and thank someone for something.

I’m all for it.

Living a life of gratitude is something that’s important to me. After I read an article from a fellow blogger and world changer, Chris Guilebeau, I even included a section in my personal mission statement about it. And Gary Vaynerchuk is famous (or infamous?) for being over the top thankful for just about everything in his life. For Gary, being gracious equates to being authentic and real.

But then I recalled a conversation several years ago with someone who was retiring from his job after 16 years of exemplary service. I knew him a little bit and was afraid that he’d never be able to accept the huge outpouring of support and gratitude that would inevitably come from colleagues, friends, community members, and others at his retirement party. I was pretty sure that he would deflect the kinds words and praise by downplaying his role and quickly shifting the focus to someone else.

I didn’t want that to happen. Mostly because I thought it would deflate the people who really wanted to thank him for his service. But I also wanted him to let the outpouring of support sink in a bit. You see, when you don’t accept the gratitude of someone, you are in a sense telling them that their feelings are misplaced or mistaken. How crappy is that?

Shouldn’t we be more open and validating of the people around us when they are expressing their gratitude and thanks? Thus the new theme for this article: Saying “You’re Welcome” is a lost art.

I remember first thinking about this after watching a DVD recording of Don Giovanni, an opera by Mozart (music) and Da Ponte (libretto). Great performance, great singing, and great music. The cast was made up of renowned opera star from across the globe. What struck me was how differently the various performers behaved during the curtain call. I won’t say that this was true for all of them, but it appeared that the European singers were much more accepting and reflective of the outpouring of admiration from the audience than the American singers. I watched it several times and sure enough, the European singers bowed slowly and graciously, peered into the audience, smiled, opened their arms, and seemed to be soaking it all in. As they stood there basking in the glow of a standing ovation they seemed to begin to reflect back the applause, which just made the audience clap and shout even louder. And every time the singer would bow and beam out his or her acceptance and gratitude for the support, the audience would renew their applause. It was almost as if they were feeding off each other.

Contrast that with several of the American singers who walked to the front of the stage, bowed quickly and looked out at the audience with their hands clasped together and after a few seconds, started backing up and motioning for the crowd to stop. You know the gesture. “no, no, no, stop. I don’t deserve your applause.” There was no give and take, the audience sensed it, and the applause fell off much more quickly. What is it about American culture that keeps some of us from accepting, without conditions, the gratitude of others?

Of course there’s a fine line between accepting gratitude with graciousness and turning into an ego thing. There are plenty of performers who revel in the applause of an audience and you can see it inflate their egos. But they don’t reflect it back. It becomes a one-way thing.

Which leads me to say: Accepting the gratitude of others is as important as saying thank you. It validates the thoughtfulness and graciousness of others. It’s a gift in and of itself.

So here’s a Gratitude Challenge for you. The next time someone says thank you (to you) pause, reflect on the gift they are giving you, and accept the gift. Then say, “You’re Welcome” like you mean it. Gratitude is all around and only grows as you accept and reflect it with grace and thankfulness.

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