Gratitude is Not Fluff and Mirrors (Yes, You Gorgeous)  

Woo, woo, fluff, and soft skills are used to describe gratitude in business. You can’t see it, you can’t prove it, and it doesn’t provide value the naysayers say.  It’s invisible! Today, real hard science has caught up with soft skills to prove what many of us already knew.   We knew intuitively positive environments and engaged workers created higher productivity and better results. Social scientists experimenting with people could prove some of this in a limited way but had to extrapolate the results.

Waiters intuitively knew how to get larger tips, by giving gifts and getting diners to like them. Social scientists were able to re-create this by doing experiments to prove the outcome. In his book about Influencing, Robert Cialdini, cites a well-known study in which restaurant tips increased by 3 percent when a gift of one candy was left, 14 percent when two gifts of candy were left, and when an authentic compliment was added to the gifts, the average tip increased by 23 percent. To translate that into a work setting is difficult with all the variables, the difficulty in defining what constitutes a gift, and a lack of willingness to interfere with real work in order to experiment. Appreciation shown at work, on the other hand, can be equated to compliments, but it’s unclear whether improved employee productivity equates to “tipping” a manager or employer.


Humans are composed of nerves and chemicals that can be measured. Measuring our nerves and chemicals as they respond to external events, emotional and physical states can give a broader picture and scientifically prove what were previously thought of as soft skills. A simple example is yawning. We’ve known for centuries that yawning is contagious in humans and some animals. Today using very sophisticated tools to scan the brain we can prove that some emotions and behaviors are contagious scientifically. If one-person yawns authentically an area of their brain lights up. Then for others watching, the same area in their brain lights up, and they may yawn as well. Only authentic yawning is contagious.

We copy and emulate certain behaviors unconsciously. Watch two people talking in an intense conversation and you may see them mirroring each other’s hand gestures. Or walk into a meeting that’s underway where everyone is very somber and serious, and immediately you can feel the emotions of the meeting. It’s a known training technique for those who work and deal in emergency situations to stay calm. Being calm not only helps emergency workers to focus and figure out their next move but it keeps everyone else calm. The opposite is true too; if one-person panics, you can quickly have a room full of panicked people.

There are two important concepts here that relate to gratitude: one is that emotions are contagious. Gratitude is an emotion, and we can prove it is contagious by watching brain areas light up. The other important point is a caution: faking gratitude isn’t contagious, unless of course you are really good at faking. It’s similar to a polygraph, a lie detector machine. Those who can modulate their body responses can fake and beat a polygraph. Gratitude must be authentic to be contagious.


Where have you observed this type of mirror in practice?  And how could you use it?