I didn’t expect the warm welcome they yelled out when I hopped in to the new branch of a mexican restaurant near my home in Tokyo. Every one working there yelled out “welcome” when I walked in and I felt like some kind of a celebrity.
It took me a while to figure out how to order but after I paid, I got another surprise. The young woman behind the cash register jumped out from behind the counter, opened the door for me, flashed me a big smile, bowed and said a very big thank you.
I didn’t get such a big thank you since I told my sister she could keep an extra share of the money my mother left us.
People in Japan say thank you like no one else and they say it a lot:
Thank you for using this train.
Thank you for coming to Starbucks.
Thank you for teaching our students.
Yes, that’s right. When I started teaching at a Japanese university, other faculty members came up to me in the hall and thanked me for my teaching. The same thing happened with many students at the end of each class. Not everyone did it, but the majority did and they said it sincerely. I can never remember anyone saying this to me when I taught in the U.S.
Last year in Osaka, I ran out late one night to buy some Takoyakai [Octopus Balls]. After I paid, in a gesture of politeness you wouldn’t expect with a 500 yen [approx $6 USD] purchase, the clerk came out from around the counter, passed me my food and said “thank you so much”.
Politeness goes a long way in every country in almost every situation, and it’s not easily forgotten. Neither is the lack of appreciation easily forgotten. Ask people why they’re unhappy with their work, and they’ll tell you that they don’t feel appreciated.
Recently, an Economics professor from France asked me to review his research proposal for working with a non-profit. I read it and gave it some thought and sent off a response with some comments. I never heard from him again. Not a peep and certainly not a thank you. We’ve all had experiences like this. We learn from them, and the next time the person asks, our answer is easy: No.
A “thank you” takes two seconds. No one is too busy to say it and it goes a long way in developing relationships, recognition and morale at work and at home.
About a year ago, I consulted with a big bank in Tokyo about low morale. Everyone who worked there had gone through turbulence-mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, trouble with regulators. Morale was at an all time low and my job was to find out why–that wasn’t so hard-and to figure out what to do.
We did an employee survey, interviewed employees, clients and suppliers [I don’t ever use the word vendors] and talked at length with the CEO. He was sincere when he asked me,
Where can I start? What can I do today to make a difference?
These two words, “Thank You”, is a perfect place to begin. Thank people for their hard work, thank people for putting up with all the changes, thank people for their performance, for their flexibility.
That’s what this CEO did. When I met with employees a few weeks later, there was a big difference in the way they talked about the company and the CEO. They told me “he appreciates what I do here, he wrote me a nice note when I got promoted, he invites us to lunch to ask our opinion and then he thanks us for our opinions.” There was a remarkable change in a very short time.
And what about saving money? Many companies spend a lot of money on change programs, change consultants, change initiatives that can do more hard than good and have little lasting effect. My advice: before you spend the money, try a thank you. It’s free and it’s something people never forget. Ditto for using these words more before you head to a marriage counselor or divorce court.
And think about how much better it will make your relationship with your colleagues, your team, your partner, your spouse, your kids and your boss–yes, your boss too. Everyone likes to hear these two words.