Francesca Foster takes a look at a recent study that explored this topic.
Gratitude is widely accepted as a positive trait. It is surprising, therefore, that so little research has been done on how gratitude affects relationships between co-workers – especially given that people spend a third or more of their daily lives at work. For this reason, a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology really caught our eye. The findings suggest that expressions of appreciation may have a bigger, more meaningful impact than you might think.
A recent study found that those looking to improve teammates’ responses to stressful tasks should express appreciation towards one another more frequently. But how can expressions of gratitude affect relationships between co-workers? And what benefits does this have for long term working relationships?
In the study, 200 undergraduates from the University of California were paired off, with partner A randomly assigned either phrases which express gratitude, or, neutral phrases which deliberately do not express gratitude. The partners completed a stressful collaborative task, followed by a stressful individual task, both whilst wearing physiological sensors. During the collaborative task, partner A was instructed to periodically say their set phrases to their partner. At the end of the experiment, the results were clear: participants who were receiving the words of gratitude performed better in both tasks.
This study, performed on undergraduate teammates, can be usefully applied by those of us using the principles of positive psychology in the workplace, as we foreground the benefits of sharing appreciation. The research in this article explains that individuals feel better equipped to handle stressful situations when they know, because they have received expressions of gratitude, that they have the support of their teammate.
These findings reflect our experience of using strengths-based approaches to promote teamwork and build feedback cultures within organisations. Gratitude helps promote a positive relationship between the grateful person and their benefactor. Our observations are that it works both ways – the person receiving the gratitude benefits from knowing they are appreciated, whilst the person giving the feedback benefits from reflecting on the value someone else contributes; in turn, the overall relationship benefits from the collective positive emotions.
That’s fitting with this study, which suggests that when building relationships gratitude expressions can promote unity; they can help the individual view the task as a challenge, rather than feeling overwhelmed. When a task is viewed positively as a challenge (rather than a source of stress), the individual or team is going to perform better. Appreciation can create more efficient teams, who feel more trusting of one another and therefore better equipped to tackle difficult tasks.
Understanding how gratitude can shape relationships between teammates is really important. Interestingly, the research found that receiving expressions of gratitude influences the individual for a period of time – the benefits are long-lasting. The findings conclude that those who reliably receive appreciative feedback have a better, more adaptive response to sources of stress and also have a reduced attention to negative cues. They are more likely to reliably be able to handle difficult tasks and situations, because, thanks to having received consistent expressions of gratitude, they feel more at ease and confident in their capabilities.
Ask yourself: are there are simple, reliable ways of encouraging a culture of gratitude in your workspace? Promoting gratitude could be a positive step towards building harmonious working relationships and reducing employees’ stress responses to tricky tasks.
N.B. At My Best 360 provides a structured way of sharing gratitude. It collects qualitative, uplifting and transparent feedback from colleagues. It ensures expressions of gratitude cannot go unnoticed, as the user requests feedback from up to 12 people, in order to discover what strengths those individuals see in them.