Giving specific thanks and specific feedback is particularly helpful. Teachers know this when they comment on assignments. “Very good” is nice but of no practical help whatsoever. Very good at what? Remembering? Thinking? Following instructions? Inventing creative solutions? Punctuation?
Parents know this when they say, Nice tidy bedroom! instead of just You’re a lovely boy!
My friend Abby has accidentally reminded me that as an old person and future frail person, I must actively remember this too. Not just remember, but open my mouth and do it.
When I’m very old, what can I give?
In sickness or old age, our ability to give physical gifts diminishes. Lack of money, mobility, dexterity, technology, good health or good vision can make generosity seem out of our reach. Can’t get to the shops, can’t pay for a gift, can’t wrap it, can’t post it! At certain times of life, any of these problems can thwart our desire to give someone a gift.
But one gift is possible: specific thanks. I can express in words my appreciation of a particular gesture or habit or use of language. As long as I have words, I can show I have noticed certain ways that somebody is helping me. Their hard work in a good cause. Their extra effort. Their skill, care, kindness, knowledge, or respect. Because these qualities are not universal: they are special.
Saying thank you in words is as easy as pie! So why wouldn’t I? A single sentence or phrase is 100 per cent better than nothing. And specific thanks can be unexpectedly powerful. When I’m on the receiving end of such a “thank you”, I can even be surprised by tears — especially if I’m feeling frail, for whatever reason. (The relief! Someone noticed!)
Abby’s thank you
So here is my friend Abby’s story about giving specific thanks. Abby has some devastating health issues and so she often interacts with health workers. Here is a story she tells about giving thanks to a health technician for something specific.
Slowly crawling out from the post-heart-kerfuffle dragginess. I had a moment in the hospital I wanted to share.
I was getting one of the many tests where they need to put leads on in different places. I’m lying on the gurney and the tech, before placing the leads, pointed to where he was going to put them. I thanked him for being considerate enough to give me a heads up and said, “I appreciate the respect that shows.”
He literally froze. Hands in midair, holding leads, just froze. Then he said, “No one has ever thanked me for that before.” He’d been doing this job for 16 years, including always making a point of telling his patients what he was going to do before he did it so there wouldn’t be any surprises, and I was the first patient to let him know that that practice makes the procedure more comfortable.
I’ve talked to lots of people, mostly women, about how utterly frustrating it is when medical folk treat us like slabs of meat or statistics and how much we value those who treat us like human beings. This is a big, constantly recurring conversation among people with chronic illnesses. When we are helpless, it’s very comforting to know that the person who has control over our bodies sees us as individuals with feelings, not just as equipment they are working with. But somehow we haven’t managed to make it a standard practice to show appreciation to those who do it.
I’ve always thanked the nurses and techs who work on me, but I’m going to try to make a point with the good ones to be more specific going forward, to tell them what it is about their work that I appreciate. They deserve to hear that.Abby Schweber on Facebook
By the way, that health worker had often been thanked, but only in general terms. It was the first time he had been thanked for this particular courtesy, though he’d been doing it for 16 years.
Abby’s friends and followers had plenty of comments to make about this incident. Now I’m looking forward to reading your opinions, too.Follow Write Into Life