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How to Gracefully Thank People and When to Do So

Dreamworker has had a lifetime of experience dealing with various types of relationships successfully.

Choose carefully when it comes to deciding on the best way to show appreciation.

Choose carefully when it comes to deciding on the best way to show appreciation.

Saying "thank you" to someone to show appreciation seems like it should be a simple thing to do, but the truth is that many people often find doing so to be awkward and embarrassing.

Some even do such a poor job of showing their appreciation that their efforts produce negative rather than positive results.

Much depends on the relationship of the people involved in these types of situations as well as the circumstances themselves.

For example, it always seems to be a problem for people who receive compliments.

If they come from a friend, it's common to respond with some sort of joking comment such as "Really? Have you had your eyes examined lately" that allows the recipient to acknowledge the compliment while letting the friend know they actually like what has been said.

On the other hand, when an employer pays an employee there is no way the recipient can make a joke of it because a joke could be misconstrued. In this instance, a simple but sincere "Thank you, sir" would be totally appropriate and would eliminate any awkwardness.

Let Circumstances Be Your Guide

No matter which technique you decide to use, make sure that it is suitable to the situation.

  • If you go too far, you make people uncomfortable.
  • If you do or say too little, you make people feel underappreciated.

There is an art to balancing the level of appreciation you show with the behavior that caused you to display it.

For example, if someone gives you a simple congratulatory card with a small check enclosed, saying "Thank you so much" and smiling lets them know you appreciate their gift.

However, if your parents surprise you with a wedding cruise or downpayment on a house, this certainly deserves more than a small statement of appreciation and a smile. It would be totally appropriate to thank and hug the parents profusely and tell them repeatedly how very much you appreciate their loving act of generosity!

Of course, there's always that one person who feels it necessary to provide an "off-color" gag gift such as a jar of petroleum jelly marked "have fun kids". Instead of saying "Thank you", you'd do better to smile, look the person right in the eye, and say "Really?"! This let's them know that you get the gag but feel it is inappropriate without embarrassing them.

Verbal Thanks

When someone does a minor favor for you or does something kind, a simple smile coupled with a "thank you” is the perfect response.

For example:

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  • you drop something, and another person picks it up for you,
  • a stranger holds a door open for you or
  • someone heading for the same parking spot as you holds back so that you can have it.

Although these are small things, the people who do them like to know that their actions have been appreciated.

When you fail to respond to them positively, it makes people less likely to want to be kind again and can lead to a good deal of anger and frustration.

Remember the guy who pushed ahead of you in line or the woman who let the door slam in your face as you were leaving the store?

These may well have been individuals who used to do nice things for others but never got thanked for doing them!

Sending Cards and Notes

These days few people take the time to write out a card, address it and mail it to someone who has done something nice for them.

For this reason, doing this is an especially nice way to thank someone who has been kind or who has given you a gift.

Sending an email shows that you really don’t want to spend the time to thank someone properly, so don’t do it.

Another point to remember is that sending cards and notes should be done correctly.

To do this, you need to take the recipients' attitudes and tastes into account.

For example, using humor to say thank you in some situations is not acceptable because joking undermines the grateful feelings you are trying to express. What person wants to receive a humorous card for comforting a friend after the death of his child!

You should also avoid sending generic cards. Sending those that are specific to the occasion shows recipients that you cared enough to take the time to shop for just the right card.

Helping someone with their chores is a great way to show your appreciation for a kindness they have shown you..

Helping someone with their chores is a great way to show your appreciation for a kindness they have shown you..

What to Write

Always write something personal in addition to the print message that you send. This should be more than “Thanks so much” or “Loved the gift”.

You would do better to say things such as

It was so thoughtful of you to stop by the hospital after my operation. Having a good friend visit really helped me to feel better.


It was so nice of you to have us over for dinner last week. The meal was delicious, but the company was even better.

When sending written cards and notes to the really important people in your life, always go the extra mile.

  • If your in-laws treated you to a movie, invite them to join you to go to an event when you send your card.
  • If your sister brought you a cake, bake some cookies and take them to her along with a thank you note.

Doing these things cements relationships, creates good feelings between people and is well worth doing.


Giving gifts to people to say thank you is a very slippery slope because doing this incorrectly can lead to unexpected and sometimes unhappy results.

For example, a while back a friend asked my husband to help him with a plumbing problem he was having.

My husband needed to buy a part to do the job correctly, and because his friend knew nothing about plumbing, he had to go pick it up himself.

The bill was $16.

My husband did the work for free, which also saved his friend from having to pay a plumber.

Instead of paying my husband back, the friend waited a few weeks and then gave us a beautiful and expensive heavy glass vase.

It clearly was used, and it came in a box that smelled horribly from third-hand smoke. (We do not smoke).

The vase was worth far more than the $16, but we neither wanted nor needed it.

The question was, what should we do with it?

  • We could keep it, but we had no use for it.
  • We could sell it, but what if the friend came to visit and saw that it wasn’t on display?
  • We could return it, but we knew that doing so would hurt his feelings.

In the end, we threw the box out, thoroughly washed the vase, and kept it, but the truth is that we would have preferred just to have our $16 back and perhaps a nice thank you note.

Due to the fact that the gift was totally inappropriate, the good feelings our friend wanted to create actually left a sour taste in our mouths. The next time he asks my husband to help him, he’ll be busy.

This is typical of the types of things that happen when people use improper methods to express their thanks. This type of behavior should be avoided at all costs.

If Not a Gift, Then What?

If you don't feel comfortable giving a gift, there are numerous things you can do to show appreciation. For example, you can

  • invite the person to your house for dinner,
  • take them a home-cooked dessert or
  • offer to help them with a difficult chore.

In many cases, doing things such as these are far more appreciated that receiving a gift the recipient may not want or ever use.

Give the Right Gift for the Occasion

If you are going to thank somebody with gifts, make sure that what you give balances what they did or gave to you.

  • If you give something too expensive, you’ll embarrass them and make them feel as though they need to do something equally expensive for you.
  • If you give something that is cheap or in bad taste, you will insult them.
  • If you give them something that clearly is used, you’d do better to give nothing at all.

If there is something special you know for a fact people want to have and that also is appropriate, then give it.

Conversely, you can do something that is more certain to be appreciated such as the items mentioned above.

Always Show Your Appreciation

When in doubt, the very least you should do is to verbally thank someone. Better yet, do it in front of other people if possible and appropriate.

If someone at work does something especially nice for you, publicly sharing their kindness with your colleagues is a great way of thanking them because it lets everybody within earshot know that they are a kind and thoughtful person.

When people do things for others, it rarely is because they want something in return.

Nonetheless, they do like it when people say thanks, and they like it even more when others use the best and most acceptable ways to show their gratitude.

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle

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