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  • Ken Clark

Why Is Saying Thank You So Hard?


Showing our appreciation for one another should be one of the easiest things to do, right? It’s not like we’re confronting someone with a difficult conversation, asking them to change the way they are or asking them for some huge favor. Just the opposite, in fact. All they need to do is listen while we tell them the way they are is wonderful, as evidenced by actions that are already past tense. The work has been done. We’re thankful for them. It should be a relational slam dunk.

Yet, many of us freeze up when we decide that a thank you is deserved. Something in our brains tells us to proceed with caution and to not make fools of ourselves. We end up overthinking what we’re going to say, spending too much time figuring out the right moment to say it and then agonizing over whether we said it enough or sounded dumb.

While all that may seem like some crazy irony, it makes complete sense to those of us that study relationships and help people develop greater intimacy with one another. It turns out that saying “thank you” is not a one-way street as it appears on the surface. It’s not just something we’re doing for someone else or to be polite. It is a vulnerable moment where we’re declaring someone’s worth to us, and that carries with it the possibility that they do not feel the same way.

Saying thank you is so hard for the exact same reasons that telling someone we love them or revealing the yucky parts of us to a best friend is still so hard. It carries with it the possibility that the other person stares at us awkwardly or, even worse, rejects our gratitude. Put simply, embedded in every thank you is the risk that the other person is not thankful for us.

Overcoming our Fear of Saying Thank You

Relationships are like winning lottery tickets… the more valuable the ticket, the more we become afraid of losing it prior to cashing it in. But, if we’re so afraid of losing it that we refuse to mail it in or take it to the lottery office to cash it, it loses all its value.

If you’re someone who finds “thank you” to be some of hardest words you’ll ever need to speak, it’s time to begin retraining your brain. You’ve got to make it your mission to build a new belief that NOT saying thank you is far riskier than putting yourself out there and exposing yourself to the possibility of rejection. You’ve got to convince yourself that somehow, something in your journey has convinced you that hiding gratitude is safer than expressing it.

The key to overcoming the fear of rejection is simply to realize how commonplace it is. The vast majority of humans are afraid of rejection. It’s why public speaking is often rated as the number one fear and karaoke rarely happens without some liquid courage. It’s why people are reluctant to speak up in meetings or spend years crushing on someone without ever dropping a hint.

When we realize that every human is afraid of being rejected, we realize how unlikely that rejection is at the moment we declare their worth. We come to understand that the secret we’re afraid to share with them, about how valuable they are, is the secret we’re all dying to hear. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the number one way to lower your own risk of rejection and isolation is to tell more people that you’re thankful for them.

Think about it for a second… what’s more probable, that someone would reject someone who values them or that they would reject someone who never has given them any indication that they matter?

That doesn’t mean someone won’t be awkward when we tell them. In fact, it may be just the opposite, but not because you screwed up your thank you or said something you shouldn’t. It may be so rare that they hear “thank you” (because most people are too busy or too scared) that they are overcome with emotion and need some space to process it.

That’s why we at the Thanks A Billion project love thank you notes, text messages of adoration, tagging people in posts, etc. It gives you and them a chance to say it, hear it and absorb it without being put completely on the spot. It’s like dropping a water balloon full of love on them from a second story balcony and then getting to watch their response.

So, go do it. Go fill up some thank you’s, hide in the bushes and start lobbing them at the people who matter to your world. It’s not nearly as scary as you think, because we’re all in desperate need of reminders about our worth and value. It’ll strengthen your relationships far more than it ever puts them at risk, especially if you do it in ways that allow them to safely process it in the privacy of their own head.

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