Ripple Effect: Power of Thanks

Apr 23

I was reminded earlier this week that civility, while not completely dead, is on it’s last legs. Yes, civility. Not to be confused with chivalry, which is an entirely separate blog post. While waiting in line, in the pouring rain for the morning bus to arrive the woman in front of me decided twirling her umbrella in a Singing in the Rain-type fashion was an acceptable pastime activity. It was early and I was still waking up, so I decided to overlook this incident even if my stuff and I were a little wetter then we should have been. It was only when we boarded the bus and said woman decided to block the aisle and swing her oversized backpack and golf umbrella, hitting the woman across from her and just missing me that I determined she was inconsiderate. Not just because of her actions, but rather because she never noticed her actions affecting those around her. Nor did she apologize.

What if the shoe had been on the other foot? The age old adage “Treat other’s as you want to be treated” comes to mind. When you’re young parents and mentors tell you to mind your P’s and Q’s. If someone gives you candy, a gift, or a compliment you say thank you. You send a thank you note. It is something that becomes ingrained, or at least that was my impression.

Apparently not.

According to the most recent Civility in America 2013 study, conducted annually by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, 95% of Americans surveyed believe we have a civility problem in America. Not only that but the perception and reality of incivility are not that far apart. Experiencing incivility has become the “norm,” and the attitude about the state of American civility doesn’t appear to be getting better anytime soon. Since the first survey was administered in 2010, seven in 10 believe that civility is worse compared to a few years ago and will continue to worsen.

Civility in America by the numbers:

  • 17.1 – average number of times Americans encounter incivility in a 7-day week or 2.4 times per day
  • 8.5 – average number of times Americans encounter incivility in real life/online in a week

In a digital world and as someone whose career is heavily dependent on online capabilities the following finding, while not surprising, was unnerving to actually have confirmed by those surveyed.

Americans who expect civility to worsen over the next several years now cite the Internet/social media as one of the leading causes (59%) after politics, American youth and the media. About one-third blame Twitter (34%), at statistically higher levels than in 2012 (21%). As more people use Twitter or hear about uncivil tweets, Twitter is becoming easier to blame for worsening civility in America. The Internet may be a leading cause of incivility because of how frequently Americans are experiencing incivility online, which is reaching an average of nearly nine times a week. Six in ten Americans (59%) report incivility from what they read online in news articles and in comments associated with the articles. Two-thirds of Americans (67%) think that social media as a whole is uncivil. Facebook receives slightly higher civility ratings than the other social sites (34%) perhaps because users have control over what information they see and from whom.

That’s why the idea behind American Greeting’s ThankList is so refreshing. It seeks to take the constant stream of digital content and turn the negative into a positive, acting as a step toward making a world that’s nicer, even if it’s just a little bit. At a person can express gratitude towards those who shaped their life through written word or a thoughtful, personalized video. Just the simple act of saying, writing, or expressing two words makes a significant difference in a person’s outlook and behavior.

It’s been said before, but there is actual scientific proof that expressing any amount of gratitude has a profound effect on your attitude and behavior as well as those around you. In a recent publication, Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan, Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino cited that, “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.” The most surprising finding in her research was the scope of what she refers to as the “gratitude effect.”

In two of the gratitude experiments, 57 students were asked to provide feedback to a fictitious student, Eric, regarding his sloppy cover letter for a job. Half received a terse confirmation email: “I received your feedback on my cover letter.” The other half received an email of gratitude: “I received your feedback on my cover letter. Thank you so much! I am really grateful.” When the students’ sense of self-worth was measured afterward, 55 percent of the group that received gratitude felt a higher sense of self-worth, compared with only 25 percent from the just an acknowledgement group. In a follow-up experiment, participants received a second message from another fictitious student, Steven, asking for feedback on his cover letter. Not surprisingly, those students who had been in the gratitude group were two times more likely to help Steven then students in the no-gratitude group.

So next time you are about to board a bus, hit send on a reply email, or scroll through your newsfeeds, take a moment and think carefully. Are you expressing gratitude, thanks, and appreciation for others? Are you joining in the negative comments or aspiring to see and contribute to the positive? Seize every opportunity you can to say thank you, to focus on the positive. It’s just two words but they are enough to start a ripple effect of change in American civility.

Thank you for reading!

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 at 5:56 pm and is filed under Behavior Change, Ogilvy Washington, Research + Insights, Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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