This has been a difficult week for me. Two of the dearest men in my life both unexpectedly wound up in the hospital by the end of the day on Monday. Between my maternal instinct to heal and fix and my high sensitivity to my loved ones’ suffering, I depleted much of the energy, attention, and time I planned to invest in my work these last few days.
I was lucky to stumble upon an interview between Oprah and Marianne Williamson during one of my darker moments Monday night. As soon as Marianne talked about how our charge in life is to be our best self and express gratitude within the crappiest situations that come our way (for those who are familiar with Marianne, know she was much more eloquent than I just was), I spiraled out of my funk and back to my better self pretty quickly.
I know gratitude is the attitude I want to carry with me everyday. Heck, I just gave a talk on it at last weekend’s The Reset Project in Las Vegas. But I don’t only proselytize gratitude for the most obvious reasons – that it makes you feel good and boosts your health and wellness. Gratitude just as importantly activates heart-centered, high-impact communication and heals fractured relationships. Here are 3 of my favorite ways to ride the “G-train” in your interpersonal communication.
1. Communicate gratitude to the people you ordinarily would admire from afar. How many times have you been grateful for the example someone has set? How your Senior VP went to bat for your team during an organizational restructuring or how a neighbor spoke out at an HOA meeting and got your community center to open its gym for extended hours? Now, here’s the “egg on the face” question. How many times did you reach out to this person and express your gratitude?
Most of us have a much easier time expressing gratitude to people we feel equal to or above in power, and we have a much harder time expressing gratitude to the people we revere…even though we revere them. Don’t miss out on this easy opportunity to use gratitude as an excuse to communicate and potentially build a relationship with someone whose actions have benefitted you.
2. When you want more help or investment from someone, thank him or her for what is already being done. Whenever our expectations for another person are not met, it’s easy to ignore and even easier not to communicate gratitude for what the person has contributed. While some people have a hard time accepting compliments, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone who was not motivated to stretch further when being thanked for what s/he had done. (Note: This works particularly well for getting your honey to chip in with domestic responsibilities. Resist the temptation to lash out on the nights when the dishes aren’t cleaned, and instead, be enthusiastic with your gratitude the nights when they are.)
3. Say “thank you” when you most want to say, “f-you”…even if it’s only to yourself. No matter the situation, no matter how badly someone hurt you, you can always recognize the humanity, and usually a whole lot else, in a person and honor him or her for that. (Note: This is not about being condescending to your colleague who just stole your genius idea by saying, “Thanks __________ for passing __________ off as your own and showing me that each of us is out for ourselves.” Or telling a family member who gossiped about you, “I’m so glad for the excuse not to have to come home for the holidays. Thanks a million.”) When you express gratitude toward people who hurt you, you honor that light inside of them that is temporarily eclipsed by their own fear, disappointment, anger, or sadness.
Sometimes, the only person we can openly communicate gratitude toward in particularly egregious situations, at least in the immediate aftermath, is ourselves. There have been many times where I have said, “Lex, thank you for showing up today despite how badly you wanted to crawl under the covers and hibernate.” While I strive to get to the place to tell the disingenuous coworker or the chatty family member “thank you” for something I can truly honor, if I can at least communicate gratitude to myself about the situation, i.e. “Thanks __________ for giving me an opportunity to practice forgiveness,” or whatever it is, then I ensure I unhook from a story where I cast myself as victim. I stay in my power and moxie. I allow myself to refocus on the many things I am genuinely grateful for. As a result, I open myself up to seeing more quickly the good within the person who temporarily made me a little bonkers.