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What I learned from hearing “congratulations”

It’s been a whirlwind of a year (which is why I haven’t been blogging very much).  I sold my tech company, GreenCup, to another woman in tech (YUSSS), and it is bustling.  I traveled to Las Vegas three times to work with my coach.  I spent May in Los Angeles, scouting a possible place to move.  I then received the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders Award, just as my first book, Stories of Elders, made its debut.  As 2018 closes out, I am proud to know that my talk about that book has been accepted to TEDx and I will be kicking off 2019 with massive excitement.

Naturally, I’ve been hearing a lot of “congratulations” from people when I see them at events.  I’m not quite used to people starting conversations with me that way — usually what I have going on is behind the scenes and it’s in catching up that they might give me a pat on the back or a high five.

I realized I should double check how I am saying “thank you” to these congratulatory comments.  I am used to speaking to audiences and know that it’s important to practice a few times in front of the mirror to make sure the facial expressions you *think* you’re making are actually the ones you want to make.  For once I had the presence of mind to use this same principle for my thank yous…  and oh boy.

It turns out, I was wincing when I said thank you!  I obviously didn’t mean to be.  I mean to be showing gratitude and excitement with a dash of humility.  Turns out, that doesn’t look very good on the face.

I decided to try saying thank you with happy smile, instead, even though that felt ego centric.  Turns out, smiling about the good things you have going on in your life translates WAY better than a mash-up of excited humility.

Now, when someone says “congratulations”, I beam, thank them, and allow them to ask more questions if they are curious.  The smile says I mean it, but I don’t let my current events hijack the conversation.  Just as they say, listening is the best way to show gratitude.

Oh my god – Stop Apologizing!

A few weeks ago, a graphic design friend requested I look over a tee shirt design she was working on.  I was happy to do so — I often ask colleagues for their second opinion so I don’t say something silly — and happened to notice a few minor errors in her work.  The text was off center in one place, and the line work heavy to one side.  Her response when I made my suggestions?  “Sorry.”

Why Does Sorry Suck?

A quick lesson (can you tell I’m a business coach?) — “sorry” is an especially Midwestern handicap (see #17).  On top of that, women say it more than men.  We apologize for all kinds of things, most of which don’t require an apology.  In doing so, it inherently makes us seem lesser to others, automatically giving the impression that we have something to be sorry about.  Humans have problem-solving minds, and by apologizing unnecessarily, you’re playing into its Confirmation Bias.  Upon receiving an unnecessary apology, one’s mind unconsciously tries to find the reason.  So start being careful with your “sorrys”.

Let’s zoom in to this case study further.  Here is why it was odd for my friend to apologize — I’m not her boss and I was reviewing her work as a favor.  She neither hurt me nor ruined anything by accidentally sending me a less-than-polished copy.  In fact, my role was a part of the polishing process.

Say Thank You Instead of Sorry

Think about every time you might apologize, and see if you can make “thank you” fit better.  Bear with me — this totally works, and it will make you and everyone around you feel better.

Let’s say you drop a dish at your partner’s home and it shatters.  You could apologize for breaking it (not a horrid idea in this case), but you could also say thank you — thank you for your partner’s patience and understanding when s/he doesn’t get mad.

Ok…  What about when you are late to a meeting?  You could say sorry, which, even if your client wasn’t tapping their toe, might make them think they should have been.  OR you could say, “Thank you for your patience – I really appreciate it,” making your client feel great for being tolerant.  We all know that they’ve been late to meetings, too.  Everyone has.

Here’s a good one — you get a latte and it sucks.  Or it has cow’s milk in it and you asked for almond milk, so you have to bring it back.  Instead of apologizing for making the barista make you another — likely making them think ‘yeah! you should apologize!’ — say thank you for sparing the moment and being considerate of your situation.

To have handled it better, my friend could have said, “Thank you so much for catching those errors!  That’s why I sent it to you.”  I’d then feel great that I helped a friend and good about my design skills.

Try it and tell me how it goes in the comments below!