Our parents drummed it into us – “watch your Ps and Qs!”
This has importance for our dealings with troubled young people, too…

Image courtesy of ©123rf/niroworld (adapted)

Image courtesy of ©123rf/niroworld (adapted)

Why is being a thankful professional important?…

Last weekend, I was struck again by how important gratitude is. I’d spent most of the weekend – as usual – running around after the kids and sorting things out at home ready for another week. It was busy. Very busy.
In all the rush, my son was doing some revision for his upcoming exams. I made him a drink, put it on the table next to him and went off to do the next thing.
“Thank you”, he said. Very deliberately and very clearly.
The franticness disappeared. Suddenly I was feeling a lot less rushed. Two simple words, “thank you.” That’s all it took.
[callout]DEFINITION: Gratitude – the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful. (Dictionary.com)[/callout]

The role of gratitude in our work…

Like most things, there are two sides to the way we use gratitude; negative and positive.
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Negative uses:

  • Describing someone as an, “ungrateful so-and-so.”
  • Referring to our work as a, “thankless task.”
  • Saying sarcastically, “thanks a lot for that!

There is something particularly pejorative about these terms. Which, conversely, maybe partly why being thankful and expressing gratitude can be so powerful.
I believe we should harness this power in our work. If I can be so dis-armed by a simple “thank you” from my son, surely young people might equally be helped by us being grateful.

Expressing our thanks to young people…

Here are some broad areas where we might express our thanks to young people:

  • Thanking young people for their time – I always make a point of thanking young people for their participation. Even though some of it is mandated (like in youth justice) so they don’t have a choice. Nevertheless, they made an effort when they would probably rather be somewhere else. We should give credit where it’s due and express this to troubled kids.
  • Thanking young people for their honesty – we probably never get the whole truth. But we do hear some pretty sensitive, even life-defining disclosures, confessions and accounts during our work. It costs children to share these with us. Being thankful and acknowledging this is important. It honours what they entrust to us.

[callout]                      Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. (Gertrude Stein; 1874-1946)[/callout]

  • Thanking young people for their flexibility – I’ve written before about the need to apologise to kids when we change arrangements or miss appointments. But equally, I think it’s a good thing to thank them when they accommodate us in these ways. It’s worth remembering that we are here to serve them, not the other way around.
  • Thanking young people for their input – not just in work sessions, but in their general participation. For expressing their views and for responding to our inquiries and questions. We ask a lot of the children we work with. Remembering and being grateful for their responses to this is appropriate. It’s good manners too!
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Two other benefits of expressing gratitude…

If all that weren’t enough, there’s more:

  • It flattens out the power structure – by expressing our thanks, we effectively say, “you’re important, you matter and I appreciate it.” This affords young people a degree of power they wouldn’t otherwise have – or at least it gives away a little of our own professional power. It levels the playing field a little.

[callout]Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. (William A. Ward)[/callout]

  • It offers young people respect – saying thank you is to say, “I owe you” or “I needed that.” By implication we are elevating the young person’s status. In doing so we move things onto a more even footing. In effect, we introduce a degree of equality. At least a greater equality than is usually the case.

This is the nub of it for me.
As professionals we are required to empower young people whenever we can. This extends beyond the obvious things like participation in decision-making – though this is important. It should extend the other way, too. To the small things. To those everyday interactions.
Being thankful and expressing it is a small but important way of empowering young people.
[shareable cite=”Jonny Matthew”]Being thankful and expressing it is a small but important way of empowering young people. [/shareable]

What do you think?…

  • What are your observations about gratitude and it’s impact at work?

Please let me know what your thoughts are… Leave a comment below, click here or post it on Facebook or Twitter.
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© Jonny Matthew 2015

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