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How gratitude can be used to grow your social network

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I’ve written before about the value a simple thank you has in the workplace.  Indeed, a study from a few years ago found that younger employees rated receiving a thank you as more pleasurable than having sex.  Hard as that is to believe, it does nevertheless underline the potent power of those two simple words.

The power of saying thanks is grounded in what’s known as the find-remind-and-bind theory.  The theory, proposed by Sara Algoe from the University of North Carolina, suggests that the gratitude we express in a thank you prompts a number of things in the recipient, including:

  • the initiation of a new social relationship between the two of you (ie the find part)
  • reminds us of existing social relationships (the remind bit)
  • encourages us to invest and maintain those existing relationships (the bind)

A recent study has set out to delve a bit deeper into the find part of this theory, to test whether a simple thank you may help to extend our social network.  The researchers attempt to craft a situation whereby expressing thanks could be manipulated in such a way as it reflected reality (at least a little).
The subject of their experiment therefore was a mentoring program, whereby participants were to act as mentors to a younger pupil.  Each mentor was asked to deliver advice on a piece of written communication produced by their mentee.

After they had delivered their help to the mentee, each was given a thank you note supposedly written by their pupil.  Half of the notes did little more than acknowledge the advice given to them

I received your feedback through the editing program. I hope to use the paper for my college applications.

The other half however had a much warmer note of gratitude sent to them.

Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!

Each mentor was then asked to fill in a questionnaire where they were asked to give their impressions of the mentee.  They were also informed that they could write a message or two on notecards for their mentee should they wish, but this was completely optional.  The aim was to test how socially affiliated the mentor was with their pupil, and whether this was impacted by the type of gratitude they’d received.

How important is gratitude?

Now, it emerged that all but three of the mentors left their mentee a note, with all of the three who did not coming from the ‘cooler’ control group.  The researchers trawled through what was written to try and decipher any potential patterns.

It emerged that when a mentor received a warm note of gratitude, 68% of them would include their contact details in the note, thus initiating further contact.  This dropped to just 42% for those who received the cooler note of gratitude.

Why is this so?

When the researchers looked through the questionnaire data, it emerged that mentors rated the ‘warmer’ mentees much higher than their peers who were paired up with a cool mentee.  The mentee in the gracious group was generally regarded as more interpersonally warm, even if there were no real differences in the competence ratings of each group.

It underlines that saying thank you and expressing gratitude are not just a matter of good manners, but can also significantly help in the forging of social bonds.  The researchers suggest that reaching out to new people can be a risky endeavour, and therefore the gratitude is a good proxy for a warm and welcoming person (thus lower risk).

The message appears clear that we should all be a bit more forthcoming when it comes to showing thanks, to whomever it may be.

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