Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Expressing Gratitude May Promote Better Collaboration

In past blog posts, I have featured some excellent research on the benefits of expressing gratitude. Most of that work focused on the benefits to the person giving thanks. New research from UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Sara B. Algoe and her colleagues demonstrates an interesting ancillary benefit from thanking others. They call it the witness effect. Gratitude doesn't just benefit the individuals giving and receiving thanks; it also has a positive impact on third parties who witness this exchange.

In their experimental studies, the scholars found that the research subjects "who witnessed a 'thank you' in one line of text, expressed to someone who previously helped the grateful person, were themselves more helpful toward the grateful person." Moreover, in their studies, they found that witnesses "wanted to affiliate more with the grateful person and with the person toward whom gratitude was expressed." Algoe and her colleagues concluded that, "Gratitude may help build multiple relationships within a social network directly and simultaneously."

Here is an excerpt from the paper that Algoe and her colleagues published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

Specifically, when Harry does something nice for Tom, it is the expression of gratitude that provides a rich signal about Harry. At a fundamental level, the witness learns that Harry voluntarily spent time or effort to do something on Tom’s behalf that Tom values. We proposed and found that witnesses would be more interested in affiliating with a person like Tom (Experiment 5). In addition, we proposed and tested the possibility that this signal would reveal Tom to be a morally good person; indeed, we found that benefactors who were more praised by grateful people were seen as more good which, in turn, predicted greater willingness to help them (Experiment 8). Although our evidence comes from one study, we believe this is a promising avenue for future research: prior research documents that people quickly judge others’ moral goodness (Lindeberg, Craig, & Lipp, 2018) and it carries greater weight than warmth or competence in some settings (Goodwin, Piazza, & Rozin, 2014; Wojciszke, Bazinska, & Jaworski, 1998).

In short, this research suggests that a workplace in which expressions of gratitude are commonplace may be fertile ground for more cooperation and effective collaboration.  Leaders should take notice.  

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