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How to thank people properly

Hello everyone,

This is one of these topics that looks benign but is not. I mean it's a small thing. However, we do it on a daily basis so it compounds.


I observed that to be socially adjusted means to give the appropriate level of gratitude according to the value received. There is a limit to the language translation in other languages but I think the concept is the same. I list them below ordered by social/emotional effort.


This is for thanking people for a "small thing".


  • Someone holds the door for you
  • Someone hands you out something of low value: a paper, a pen

Thank you

Here there is a little bit more of a social and emotional effort. It says that you're grateful to this person for something more meaningful.


  • Somebody gives you a coffee they just made
  • Somebody gives you a compliment

Thank YOU! (warm/excited tone)

Here there is additional emotional energy expanded. So there's more effort. This is for something that the person was not obliged to do in the current/normal circumstances.


  • The boss gives you a chair
  • Somebody holds the door for the bus as you're running for it

Thank you very much (!)

This is to acknowledge a sizeable amount of value offered by the other person.

  • Somebody takes time on a forum to give you valuable advice (shout out to you guys)
  • At the end of the evening where you have been invited at somebody's home for a dinner
  • When someone is offering you a job


So is this just mental masturbation? I think not of course. So where is this useful?

To avoid social faux-pas.

Examples of social faux-pas (please excuse the limits of them):

  • A colleague hands you a pen

Thank YOU very much! (said on a warm and excited tone with a smile)

That is too much gratitude for the value offered. It may sound off and low value.

  • At the end of the evening where you have been invited at somebody's home for a dinner

Thanks (said in a neutral voice, with a slight smile)

This is not enough gratitude for the value offered. It may sound off as ungrateful, it may frame one as a taker.

Judge PM

Some History. I learned many years ago in the self-development literature that it's better to express what one is grateful for in order for this gratitude to have more impact.


Thank you for your generosity!

Now, having learned more about power dynamics, I think there is a judge undertone to it. That is: thanking someone for something sounds a bit like what a boss would say to an employee:

Thank you for the report, Sally. (said with a semi-warm tone in a validating way)

It's less likely to hear an employee thank a boss like this:

Thank you for your help. (not the best example)

To mitigate for this, one can frame oneself as being below (as proposed by Lucio some time ago):

Thank you for the supervision!


Thank you for the teaching!

I do think however that there is a time and place for thanking someone for something.

It is when one want the other person to know what was valuable for them. In a way to express extra-gratitude as a compliment.

Thank you for your kindness (said with a smile and a slight nod if to a higher up)

So now, I avoid as much as possible to thank people for something as I'm afraid I will introduce an unwanted judge PM whereas my goal is to express genuine gratitude. I think it is appropriate though in many contexts: for instance to let the person that you did not forget and appreciated the value given.

Guest arrives with a bottle for a dinner at your place:

You: Thank you!

At the end of the evening (not mandatory but a possibility):

You: was nice to see you and thank you for the bottle!

This is still a "work in progress" so I'm happy to know your thoughts about this. I might be off on some of the ideas proposed here.

Lucio Buffalmano and Bel have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoBel

Hello John,

Concentrating this post on the “reason for thanks”:

I also think that thanking someone “for something” may change the dynamics in a potentially bad way.

“Wrongly” specifying what the thanks “are for” may:

- limit the scope of the “thank you”

- deflect attention from the personal connection

- emphasize the “crude exchange” angle that is best avoided, as Lucio recently pointed out

- possibly fail to interpret what the other person felt was the “main giving” in his or her behavior

- subcommunicate or introduce in the exchange power differentials (or frames) that are best minimized, and that may not even be there - and possibly even cement these unwanted frames.

On the other hand, there are situations in which it is necessary to specify (and correctly choose) what the thanks are for. One example is when a person, who is asked of something, is later told that something is not necessary anymore, and thanked. In this case, not specifying what one is thanking for (eg his courtesy) may be interpreted as condescension.

So, I believe that the general guideline would be:

- do not specify the reason for the thank you, thus subcommunicating you simply like and appreciate the person more than the deed

- unless doing so would be interpreted badly given the context (as in the example above)

- in that latter case, choose what you’re thanking for very carefully to avoid introducing bad frames

- and, ideally prefer a personal quality rather than a deed, unless the deed is so important that it subcommunicates extremely good qualities (eg “thank you for saving my life”).

On this point: in a recent thread, Lucio pointed out that thanking someone for his “availability” is a no-no, as it introduces the frame that he was responding due to his personal “availability”, rather than because it made sense to interact with another “good person”. I also now realize it subcommunicates not feeling “totally worthy” of the other interacting with the “thanker”.

A similar not-so good reason to thank could be “thank you for your time”, as it probably subcommunicates one does not consider himself worthy of the other’s time.

Another thing I used to thank clients for - now no more after PU - was their “preference”, which I now realize was a mistake - it basically put me on the same level of other potential lawyers, while it’s clear that, on the contrary, the history and trust I have with my clients paint a very different picture, and are not easily substituted.

The interesting thing here is that badly learned figures of speech, or unconscious frames that one holds in one’s mind, may tend to influence the relationship irrespective of what both the other person initially believed, and the speaker intends.

In other words, take two friends who are equally liking each other and giving to each other: if one of them starts saying “thank you for your time” to the other on every interaction, it is very probable that the “thanked” friend will start feeling much less willing to interact on each contact.

The subcommunication will cement in both people’s minds, irrespectively of the literal communication.

From the perspective of the friend “thanking the other for his time”, it’s obvious that the thanks are made to encourage further interactions.

But the frame of “unworthiness/power differential” that is being subcommunicated virtually guarantees that the relationship will meet its demise.

Better instead to assume the other friend likes and wants to interact, and not say anything on his “availability”. Which closes the loop by bringing us back to just end interactions by just saying:

Thank you, friend!

without specifying what the thanks are for, and subcommunicating I appreciate him as the great person he is.

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and Transitioned have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn FreemanTransitioned

Adding that it’s possible to still specify what one appreciated “formally separately” from the thank you, even if immediately afterwards:

Thank you, friend!
That thing you did for me was totally great and much appreciated.

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and Transitioned have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn FreemanTransitioned

Yes, great stuff, John.

There are indeed several different levels, and how you say also plays a role.

For example on a covert power move, I may say "thanks", but say it coldly and detached, not looking at the person while I say it.

John Freeman, Transitioned and Bel have reacted to this post.
John FreemanTransitionedBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Sooo... to what John said could we add warmth and informality to avoid the judge undertone.

I often hear "legend, your a star/champ/lifesaver" That's the warmth then you go into the specific of how they helped you.


Bel has reacted to this post.