Thank you is not always gratitude. There are many types of “thank you.”  It’s similar to, “Bless your heart”, as reported by this social media comment, “Southerners are really practiced at the million ways to mean FU while saying something that sounds a lot nicer. “Bless your heart” can be used in a ton of ways, sympathy for someone’s pain, or “you’re dumb as a box of rocks “

How can you tell if a thank you is gratitude? Sometimes it’s obvious because of facial expressions, voice tones, and finger gestures. Sometimes it’s subtle and harder to know what your thank you really means. The meaning is influenced by how you perceive the person thanking you.

What they intended and what you believe are not always the same. “Nice job, thanks”, can have many interpretations. If you have a good relationship with a peer or manager, you may believe they are showing gratitude. However, if you have a bad relationship with someone who thanks you, you may conclude it’s because they want something from you or they are just being polite or it’s to make them look good.

  Who knows?

When the CEO tells the entire company how much they appreciate your team, what type of “thank you” do you perceive? It depends, on the CEO, how the CEO delivers it, and how you feel about the CEO. If you respect them, you might hear authentic gratitude. If members of your team are skeptical of the CEO’s motives, they may believe the “thank you” is motivated to get more work from them.  Other team members may think it’s more like a social obligation. The same thanks can result in many different interpretations.

One way to help your meaning of thank you to become clearer is to give SMART gratitude. SMART gratitude takes away the platitude. SMART stands for specific, measurable, authentic, realistic, time. “Good job” can become, “Yesterday, I was impressed by your completion of the task 3 days before scheduled.” By getting specific with gratitude there is less of a chance for a wrong interpretation. You can grab your

SMART gratitude template here.

Growing up, saying “thank you” and “please” was polite, required, and ingrained. It is what nice people do, a culturally expected behavior. As life beat me down, I saw a harsher reality where politeness and thank you were used as a way to get something. It was also a way to channel difficult emotions. In traffic the guy who beeped and yelled at me, the manager who screamed at me in front of the team, the consultant who told me what manipulative steps to take. I thanked them and gritted my teeth and smiled. Thank you matched with a smile became my defense mechanism. Thank you and a smile were my masks, not gratitude.

It was not until later when I saw horrific, harmful, hurtful deeds in the world that I understood what being authentically grateful meant. I learned how to appreciate and say “thank you” from the heart with no expectation of anything. I’m keeping the authentic and socially expected thank you’s and working on losing the defensive thank you.

SMART gratitude given authentically helps your intentions become clearer.