What should you get your friends and co-workers this holiday season? How about something they’ll thank you for by returning or re-gifting it?
Give a SCARF
Stop! Before you click away, let me clarify what I mean by SCARF. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, uses the acronym SCARF to describe six gifts that all humans want from each other: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.
How do I know this is what your friends and co-workers want? When our ancestors earned their living by hunting and gathering in small tribes, these qualities led to more and better mating opportunities. Regardless of what your ancestors left us in their wills, they left us brains that view our SCARF as essential to survival.
Unfortunately, if we rely on others to give us a SCARF when we most need one, we may find ourselves out in the cold. And if we hold onto our own SCARF too tightly to keep others from snatching it, we may accidentally strangle ourselves.
Surprisingly, the best practice for assuring you’ll have a SCARF when you need one is to give them away year-round.
Thank You Messages
In helping people move from depression to well-being, I’m more motivated by pragmatism than altruism.
So, for the past week or so I’ve been sending thank you emails and messages not because therapists recommend it, but because Google engineers do.
Many of the best engineers in the world start their workday by sending a quick thank you message to a colleague.
When your friend or co-worker reads your appreciative message it gives their sense of status a boost.
People who receive such messages reply with a “thank you” or the occasional “you made my day” at much higher rates than the average message.
When they do, this gives your sense of status a boost.
(Note: on the occasions when recipients don’t reply, you’re still ahead of the game. See Relatedness below.)
As hunter gatherers, our bellies gave us crucial feedback on whether we’d had a successful day.
Since the invention of the assembly line it’s been harder to pinpoint our role in the overall scheme of things. This leaves many of us uncertain about our value to the company, and to the friends we don’t see as much as we used to.
Composing a thank you email reminds us that people have done things that we value. Letting them know can help give them certainty. Maybe much needed certainty if they read it before a morning full of seemingly pointless meetings.
The best jobs offer us autonomy in how we accomplish our goals. But, if we don’t currently have a job that offers a lot of choice, we can still practice autonomy in who we thank.
After we thank the people who help us most often, we force ourselves to become creative and thank people for things that we may have taken for granted.
If we have a job that doesn’t constantly put us in touch with other people, it’s easy to lose sight of our interconnectedness. Sending thank you messages helps us recognize that we have been the beneficiaries of great kindness and connection.
That connection or kindness may no longer be a part of our everyday lives, but bringing it to mind strengthens our sense of relatedness.
Studies show that recognizing the depth of our social connections is as important a predictor of longevity as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking.
The only problem that I’ve experienced so far in thanking people is that it requires so little effort that it doesn’t seem fair.
But, as I review how it benefits both parties when it comes to Status, Certainty, Autonomy, and Relatedness, I have to conclude that it is.
Two Minute Exercise
1. Take a piece of paper or a text document and on each line write down one aspect of SCARF.
2. Give yourself a score from 0-10 on how you currently rate yourself on each aspect.
3. For 21 days (or 21 work days) write a thank you message to someone from your past or present who has helped you. Be specific about how.
I used your Excel spreadsheet tip yesterday and it saved me twenty minutes. Thank you so much for sharing that with me.
Thank you so much for your honest feedback about my performance. I look forward to honing my skills.
Thank you so much for getting back to me yesterday about my question so quickly.
4. After 21 days, repeat step one.
5. Compare the first SCARF sheet with the second.
Bonus Points: Take 20 seconds to thank a friend or co-worker face to face. Make eye contact when you do it. The benefits you receive from face to face thanks have a multiplying effect.
Extra Bonus Points (in a little over a minute):
Watch the video of Shawn Achor and Oprah on Thank You Messages (1:20)
And here’s Rick Hanson’s take on “Say Thanks“