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Worried that Expressing Gratitude to Your Coworkers Will Make Them Feel Awkward?

Updated: May 30, 2023

There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.


Many words have been written extolling the virtues of gratitude. Research, too, indicates that individuals experiencing gratitude can expect an array of benefits such as positive emotion, well-being, and job satisfaction. That said, people seem to express gratitude far less at work than anywhere else, despite reporting how important receiving it is to them. Recent research might explain this apparent disconnect. Researchers asked people to write letters of gratitude and then to predict how surprised, happy, and awkward their letter recipients would feel. Turns out, the study participants were pretty bad at judging how people would feel. Participants underestimated how surprised recipients would be, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and perhaps, most importantly, underestimated how positive recipients would feel after receiving gratitude. It seems that people made false assumptions about expressing gratitude because they were too focused on themselves, rather than on the person they were grateful towards. How can we overcome these concerns?

1. Don’t assume that people are aware of your gratitude.

Because we are aware of our own thoughts and emotions, we assume that others know how we feel. Even if your coworker knows you are grateful, you might still be underestimating how meaningful it would be for them to hear you reinforce that knowledge by expressing your gratitude.

2. Stop worrying about saying “the right thing.”

In the research described above, participants were overly concerned with using the right words and being articulate in their letters. Recipients of the gratitude letters, however, were much less critical than participants. Don’t think too much into it, just express your gratitude authentically!

3. Recognize the power of giving thanks and being thanked.

With 53% of employees indicating they would stay longer at their organizations if they were more appreciated, it’s time to stop undervaluing the positive impact of expressing gratitude. Expressing gratitude increases the positive mood of expressers and recipients.

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