I’m Re-Thinking “Thank You”

As anyone who has read this blog for any time will know, courtesy and manners are HUGE to me. I even wrote a post about “Thank you” and why I feel it still has a place in modern business. But a couple of things have recently led me to re-calibrate my view.

Here’s the science bit…

The first was an article about a study conducted jointly by the universities of York, Sydney and Helsinki looking at how manners change from country to country.

It said that us Brits pride ourselves on minding our manners, but aren’t as polite as we might think and say “Thank you” on only one in seven occasions after the granting of a request. The reason, the researchers said, was because humans are naturally co-operative and “social life thrives because it’s in our nature to ask for help and pay back in kind, rather than just in words.”

Interestingly though, the UK still scored higher than anywhere else in the world where, on average, “Thank you” is used just one in 20 times. Which mirrored the other thing that gave me pause for thought – a conversation I had with my god-daughters.

The wisdom of youth

Having been brought up in Britain by a mother who took a strict approach to manners, Lucy and Emily were very polite – not just to their elders, but to each other. Then two years ago they moved to Spain and during a recent visit I was disappointed to find their use of “Please” and “Thank you” had slipped (though their nag of a godmother kept reminding them!)

When I picked Lucy, aged 13, up on it, she explained that the Spanish rarely use the phrases and as her conversations were mostly with her Spanish school friends, she’d stopped using it too. She then informed me that the British are known as ‘the por favors’ by the locals because they think it’s funny how courteous we are.

All of which made me stop and think about how strongly I view manners and how – and I’m being totally honest here – I negatively perceive those who don’t use them. (And along with that, how I view their personal brand.) After all, so long as the interaction as a whole is courteous and, to quote the researchers, naturally co-operative, the outcome is the same – even if it is missing the odd “Please” or “Thank you”.

So I’ve decided to loosen up a bit.

It won’t change how I behave – I’m more than happy to be mocked as a ‘por favor’ because the alternative would mean going against one of my core values. But I’m much more willing to go with the flow of modern conversation, even if people aren’t minding their Ps and Qs. (Or maybe I’m just getting more laid-back in my old age.)

What are your views on “Please” and “Thank you”? Does it irk you when people don’t use them? Or do you think people like me should get a life and worry about more important matters? I’m sure you have a view and I’d love to hear it with a comment below. Thank you!

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12 responses to “I’m Re-Thinking “Thank You””

  1. Chris says:

    I find that some people use their politeness to avoid saying the truth. Or they are polite, but not necessarily mean it and you can hear/see that. I hear “thank you” instead of “goodbye” a lot, more like a reflex than actually meaning to thank someone. Thank you’s and please’s can have quite a spectrum of meaning it seems.
    I’d rather have a real “thank you”, but hear it less often. I prefer directness to pretend politeness and insincerity.

  2. Michelle says:

    Manners maketh man, IMHO. I consider it really important to thank people and express appreciation when they’ve granted a request or done something nice for me. It really irks me when people don’t say thank you, especially if I’ve put myself out for them, either professionally or personally. You can’t take anything for granted in this life, but being polite and courteous is an important part of a personal brand, I feel.

  3. Matthew Cox says:

    As someone who does use please and thank you an awful lot (having had this built into me by my parents and instilling it in my kids now) I find this blog really interesting. Food for thought. Thanks for posting Jennifer!

  4. Lucy Findlay says:

    I have stopped saying please and thank yous as much in places like restaurants. It can get too much to say thanks every time the waiter appears! I tend to limit myself and then I think it is more meaningful – for instance making sure that I say thanks at the end of the meal and a comment about the food/service…

  5. Tony O says:

    It might reinforce the stereotype from the article, but I have just been reading the feedback on my company’s corporate culture survey. In the section on job satisfaction and recognition, the comments from UK based employees repeatedly give comments such as “a thank you can be better than a payrise”, a “personal thank you from one of the reps makes you want to do more” and ” a ‘well done’ from a customer can change your mood for a whole day”. In my book, a “thank you” is good for both sides in the exchange, provided that it is authentic.

  6. DAVID REID says:

    My American wife does not half give me stick for being far too polite. Talk about cultural differences……….

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I remember when I was in the USA one time standing at a deli counter. The person in front kept saying things like, “Gimme a quarter pound of ham” and “Gimme a quarter pound of cheese” and I kept thinking, “No, it’s ‘Please may I have a quarter pound…'” There’s a definite cultural shift between us Brits and the Yanks.

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