Automatic behaviors college students fall into — monotone “thanks” for a door held open or a groan when a professor challenges a class — can harm individuals’ capability for making genuine interpersonal connections, according to Dr. Andrea Dixon, associate professor of marketing and executive director of the Keller Center for Research and the Center for Professional Selling.
“I think there’s a lot of small little behaviors in society that are nice manners that may be done more out of a habit than a true interest and respect for someone else,” Dixon said.
Everyday exchanges that lack eye contact or any verbal exchange reap no connection. Dixon said intentionally acknowledging the people around you will often provoke a higher level of gratitude.
Dixon said gratitude extends into all aspects of student life: among their peers, as well as toward guest speakers, faculty and advisers of organizations.
“As people give you time for your professional or personal development, the idea of thanking people for the time that they give to you is so important,” Dixon said. “If someone has invested in your high school or college experience, your ability to acknowledge it actually strengthens that bond.”
Students may shy away from approaching guest speakers in fear of not having anything intelligent to say, but the interaction can also be transformative for the student to understand the value found in the words, according to Dixon.
When it comes to professors, Dixon said students may not express gratitude because the academic rigor may be frustrating. From personal experience as a faculty member, Dixon said it is easier to not push students and do the minimum, but most Baylor staff are “more than happy to go above and beyond.”
“Sometimes faculty and staff will push you a little bit to grow and to develop, but instead of having a grateful spirit toward them and recognizing they’re really doing that for you, you can actually get caught on the wrong side of your emotion,” Dixon said. “You get frustrated and feel like that person is pushing you too hard, and you end up actually pushing back instead of being grateful and drawing in.”
Student organization advisers can also be underappreciated for their contributions, Dixon said.
“Those adviser roles are not paid,” Dixon said. “Those are roles people do because they believe in young people.”
Thankfulness can be expressed in multiple forms. Dixon said a positive attitude in a classroom can even be an expression of appreciation.
“If I’ve poured into students, then I see them pouring into other students, that is very strong evidence of the gratitude that they have — because they are paying it forward,” Dixon said.
This is an example of the most impactful way to give thanks, Dixon says. This means thanking someone in a way that is out of the norm.
Yoshiko Fujii Gaines, Japanese senior lecturer, compared American, English-speaking culture with Japanese culture. While the English language has the term “thank you” to express thanks in all situations, the Japanese language has varying phrases dependent upon the scenario.
For example, “gochiso sama,” “gochiso sama desu” or “gochiso sama deshita” is used for expressing thanks for food and drinks. “Otsukare-sama desu” or “otsukare-sama deshita” is used to thank someone for their hard work. Finally, “Osore irimasu” is used to thank the customer for doing something.
The Japanese language reflects a cultural value of placing others first, Gaines said
In place of the commonly uaed term “thank you,” gratitude should be expressed with actions as well, according to Dixon.
“A quick text of thanks is probably normative behavior today, whereas a handwritten note will provide a stronger expression because it’s out of the norm,” Dixon said.
Dixon recommended thinking of ways to give thanks that would be “disruptors” of everyday life. In straying from automatic, habitual thanksgiving is an opportunity for real engagement and connection.
“We’ve been designed to be in relationship with one another. [In gratitude], there’s a real authentic relationship, as opposed to superficial formal relationships,” Dixon said.