'Thank you' never goes out of style

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May 12, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

Positive reinforcement, from the employee\'s perspective

For about a week, Netscape was featuring an article about a study on bosses conducted by St. John\'s University. According to the article, the number one characteristic of a good boss is someone who shows \"support.\" In fact, the researchers found that people who feel their boss is supportive actually have lower blood pressure than those who feel their boss would hang them out to dry in a New York-minute.

It had to be serendipity.

Just several days before the article started running on the Netscape home page, I got an email from my very first boss - Lou Heckler, news-director-turned-motivational-speaker. Lou had Googled me and then sent an e-mail asking that I get in touch.

When we connected via the phone after nearly 30 years of being incommunicado, Lou was in a hotel in South Dakota preparing for a keynote presentation to a health care organization.

After exchanging niceties for about 10 minutes, I finally asked the obvious, \"Why, after 30 years, did you decide to get in touch?\"

Turns out Lou was working on a presentation about \"high performance\" and had started thinking about \"high potential\" people he had known when they were just starting their careers.

I was on his list; he wanted to know if I had lived up to his expectations.

I was stunned. As a 22-year-old starting my career, I had no idea at the time that Lou felt that way. Lou probably thought he was demonstrating his support by giving me special reporting projects. However, as a $3.12-an-hour research assistant, I somehow interpreted those special reporting projects as \"extra work\" that weren\'t part of my job description.

What I really wanted was the recognition of that coveted job title - I wanted to be a reporter, not a research assistant. Oh, and earning $3.50 an hour would have been ducky. Lou and I had an obvious appreciation disconnect.

I\'m not alone. According to Judy Skoglund, a human resources consultant and partner in Lennick Aberman Leadership Group based in Downtown, most managers are not trained to reward positive behavior. Those who do acknowledge employees\' good work often make the mistake of following a one-size-fits-all approach.

\"One of the things I learned to do is have a discussion with employees about recognition,\" says Skoglund. \"While most people want recognition, some people need the public recognition and others really prefer a more private, quiet thank- you. Then there are the people whose idea of recognition is getting free movie tickets.\"

Skoglund says knowing what kind of recognition someone wants is just as important as making sure you give employees the recognition they deserve.

While some people seem to have a gift for supporting and recognizing employees, just as many have to work at it. Skoglund, for one, says saying \"thank you\" doesn\'t come naturally to her. \"I tend to go straight to solving the problem. In fact, when I was a manager I joked about the fact that I had to put it on my to-do list to remind myself that verbalizing appreciation is important to

people.\"

While she has learned to provide positive feedback, Skoglund says she could still do a better job. \"It\'s not a natural part of who I am; I will remember to do it about 90 percent of the time. But when I am pressed for time and have too many things to do, I tend to forget to acknowledge and say \'thank you.\'\"

The good news is that this management skill can be learned. Skoglund warns, \" The recognition needs to be sincere, otherwise people will see right through it.\"

And it\'s never too late to start. Hearing your boss say nice things about your work can make you feel really terrific and very much appreciated - even if it\'s been 30 years since you last spoke.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.