How To Say Thank You Like You Really Mean It

Ever receive a compliment from someone, or they say thank you to you, and you start questioning how sincere they really are with what they said?

While you might not be right all the time it seems science has picked up on this intuitive ability we have.

Karyn Fish, from McGill University, and her colleagues, outline in their “The sound of (in)sincerity” research, how we have a pretty good ear for identifying genuine praise and recognition.

Interpreting Sincerity

We tend to pick up on the intention of a person’s expression of thanks, or compliments, by processing the verbal and nonverbal cues given by the speaker. Most verbal and nonverbal cues are subconsciously given and we have little control over them.

The listening recipient hears the expression and evaluates the level of sincerity and hopes they have interpreted correctly.

It’s the voice that’s the main sincerity clue. Vocal, or prosodic, cues include behaviors like variations in pitch, vocal loudness, tempo, pauses and overall vocal quality.

These scientists took advantage of prosocial lies as a source of monitoring insincere expressions.

You know those occasions when someone asks you, “What do you think of my new outfit?” – and your honest opinion is you don’t like it. But instead of gently saying how you feel, you tell a prosocial lie to prevent hurting the person’s feelings – “Oh, it’s really nice on you.”

What The Voice and the Brain Reveal

Listeners in the study received vocal recordings of paired questions and responses and were asked to rate the level of sincerity of the speaker using a 5-point Likert scale.

Fish and her colleagues found:

  • Sincere compliments are usually faster in speed than insincere expressions. This is likely due to the spontaneity of the comment when it is genuine. If it is slower and insincere, the speaker is processing whether to use a prosocial lie or not and tries not to show they are lying. They’re figuring out what to say even if  it is only a matter of seconds longer.
  • Sincere comments begin with a higher pitch than those that sound insincere. Excitement is a spontaneous emotion when truly felt which leads to the higher pitch.
  • Insincere compliments tend to increase in loudness as the utterance unfolds. This is likely an authoritative attempt to consciously cover up the prosocial lie.

Say That Thank You Like You Mean It

Besides using the right words, which are the same whether you speak them or write them to someone, please be mindful of the following sincerity enhancers:

  1. Check in your mind’s eye what your motivations are for saying thank you. If you simply have the sincere intent to acknowledge a person’s positive actions then your vocal response will be just fine.
  2. Stay true to your personal, moral values, which will impact how you come across with eye contact and facial expressions to accompany your voice.
  3. Be natural and be yourself and you wont even have to think about the detailed qualities of your voice.
  4. Speak clearly as you give thanks to people and telling them what you’re grateful for and why that was important to you.
  5. It is important to be honest without being hurtful in situations where you are being asked a question. This will prepare you to be much more sincere when saying thank you to people.

Question: How have you picked up on individual’s sincere or insincere expressions of thanks?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

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