Thank you for your thank you!
Being onsite for conference is the best, isn’t it? Sure, the hours are long, your legs are tired from schlepping your bags across a convention center, and you’re breathing recycled air for about a week, but it is nearly unrivaled in building connection to our work and members.
Last month, the American Pain Society (APS) held its Annual Scientific Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. The APS staff and many of the senior leaders of the Society spent about a week managing logistics, taking meetings, problem solving, celebrating successes, managing speakers, and, my very favorite, interacting with our volunteers. For half of the APS staff, this was their first meeting with the Society – the first opportunity to see “the machine” they’d been building finally lurch into action. There’s nothing like it, seeing all the pieces come together.
As part of our post-conference efforts, each member of the team created a list of all the volunteers, attendees, and members with whom they had meaningful interactions and/or accomplished goals. To be clear, this wasn’t a list of people whose names we remembered; the emphasis was on “meaningful.” So as not to bombard anyone with correspondence, we compiled our lists. Some volunteers were listed by everyone, some only once or twice. From there we hand wrote personal “Thank You” cards. The sentiments ranged from pure gratitude to recalling a joke or providing emotional support for someone whose mother fell ill while she was at conference. The only guideline was that it had to be genuine, thus the focus on meaningful interactions. We wanted the recipients to know that in some way they made our days, jobs, and even our lives better. We wanted to extend the warm fuzzy conference afterglow for us and for them.
This specific practice – expressing gratitude to volunteers as part of our post-conference wrap-up – is new to the team, but the general idea is not. I’ve read the articles on the benefits of practicing gratitude. I’ve watched the TED Talks. I know that the habit of focusing on that which you are grateful for can create new neuronal pathways in your brain, which can change the way you think and behave. As such, we begin team meetings by taking three minutes to make a “gratitude list” and share a few of them in order to frame the meeting.
Having seen the ripple effect of the attitude of gratitude, I expected that writing the cards would be a good exercise for the team. What I didn’t expect was the response. Have you ever been thanked for a “thank you” card? We have! We received phone calls, emails, even hand-written cards letting us know how great it felt to be recognized. One read that the note “characterized the kind of working relationship we had created.” Another said it made her feel good to be appreciated for her “quirks.” One came with pictures of a squishy new grandbaby. We were in the glow of a gratitude echo chamber. We could have thanked them for thanking us for thanking them!
So, here’s what we’ve learned: the impact of a meaningful interaction can be deepened through intentional and mindful appreciation for it. By communicating that, we allow others to reap the benefits with us. As a singular action, it created positivity, but imagine the outcomes if we can build and define the relationships with our volunteers with this approach. We can foster a sense of belonging and respect in a culture that creates a connection to our work.
Okay, name three things you’re grateful for… go!
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