Back in the 1990s, I learned a valuable lesson that I haven’t forgotten. It happened over a ten year period while I interviewed dozens of construction company owners for ongoing articles I wrote for a magazine called Carpenter. Every business owner I talked to began their working lives as journeymen carpenters in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBC), but by the time I spoke to them they owned construction companies of various sizes and persuasions. The people who made time for my questions were busy, often employing dozens, even hundreds, of people doing amazing projects like building major league sports stadiums, hospitals, office towers and more. One question I always asked near the end of each interview was simple, but it proved useful:
“What’s the single most effective thing you’ve done to make your business successful?”
The answer I often got has proven to be the most valuable in my experience, and it has nothing to do with management methods, hiring practices, project bidding, tool management or any of the other things that a good construction business depends on. The secret of success cited more than once came down to something your parents should have taught you . . .
I know this sounds too simple to matter, but I’m reminded of the power of the “thank you” mentality every time I encounter someone who uses it on me. Saying a sincere thank you is one of those things that doesn’t seem like much to the person offering the words, but it usually means a lot to the person on the receiving end.
There are two reasons regularly saying thank you to the people in your life makes a positive difference for every one. This is especially true in today’s world where ordinary politeness has become rather extraordinary. One reason to say thank you is because it makes people remember you for next time. If you own a business, your clients do you a favour every time they choose to work with you. They’ve said “no” to other people that they could have worked with, just like they could have said no to you. The fact that you were chosen is something you must never take for granted. All else being equal, people choose to do business with those they like. Saying thank you makes you more likable and, in the case of all those business owners, it seems to be key to success.
The second reason to say thank you may be the most important of all. The act of genuinely speaking these words keeps you humble. It’s a personal reminder that this dirty old ball of rock we live on would keep spinning just fine if you disappeared tomorrow. Once again, if you’re in business, remember that mutual consent is the hallmark of a free market economy and you can’t take the opportunity to work for granted. In a very real sense, I consider it a privilege to work for people and you should, too. Saying thank you to your boss, your customers, your friends and family members is an affirmation to yourself that even successful people are enormously dependent on others.
When should you say thank you? Pretty much whenever you can. In addition to a personal thank you every time a boss or customer pays you, or any time anyone has done anything in your favour. Sure, on a business level, speaking, “thank you” is the financial payment you’re getting or giving, but why not make it more personal? It’s no extra trouble, and it builds your reputation as a decent, polite and reasonable person. And heaven knows, our world sure needs more people like this right about now, doesn’t it?