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Compassionate Communication: Gratitude

Each one of us has tremendous power in turning our own lives and the lives of others to be more wonderful through the words we use, if we know how to do it in a way that is connected to life and charges people with positive energy. We explain here how gratitude is expressed and received in compassionate communication.

Expressing gratitude

How to do it

When someone does something which improved our life, how can we express thanks in a meaningful way? We can do so by using the components of compassionate communication:

  • Accurate description of the specific action that the other person did.
  • Our emotions that arose after this act.
  • Which of our needs were met thanks to this act.

For example: “When you told me that …, I felt joy and relieve, because what you said met my needs for safety and clarity.”

How not to do it

In compassionate communication, we do not use judgmental language, even if it is positive judgment, such as “you are a kind person”. Such a statement conveys zero information. It does not explain what the other person did, how it made us feel, and which needs it satisfied. Moreover, it is still judgmental statement, so it implies there are people who are unkind. Even the person we are currently thanking may fear (unconsciously) that at a later time we will label him as “unkind” if he does something which is not to our liking. It makes us stuck in the alienating approach.

It is also not recommended to express thanks by using a reward, such as a physical present, or by saying things like “Well done!”, “You did a go job!”. This sounds like a reward, and reward is the other side of punishment. It feels like dog trainers who cause the dogs to behave in a certain way desired by the trainer by using rewards and punishments. This is not a suitable way for humans, it de-humanizes them. It destroys the beauty and power of gratitude, because people may suspect that the rewards is given as a manipulation, as part of an attempt to train them to continue behaving in a way that we want them to. They start wondering whether the reward is given out of sincere gratitude, or as a manipulation.

What about the claim that compliments and praises build self confidence? Well, if someone needs external praises to feel good about himself, that means he has no self confidence but only an addiction to external rewards. This is not they way to build self esteem, which can be built only through treating oneself with love.

Receiving gratitude

How to do it

If someone thanks us in the alienating approach, we can help both of us connect more closely. We can ask them: What exactly did I do? How did you feel after that? Which of your needs did it satisfy?

When gratitude to us is expressed in this way, we can reply by sharing which of our needs is being met by this gratitude, and what pleasant emotions it evokes in us.

How not to do it

It is an error to dismiss what we did that led to the gratitude, as in “ah, well, that’s nothing”. This belittles the value of what we did – making someone’s like more wonderful. And this also causes the person who thanks us to feel that what she said is being dismissed, that the gift of gratitude she wants to give us is being rejected. This is to destroy the celebration.

It is not compassionate to think: “I do not deserve this gratitude”. This is related to the alienating approach that thinks people “deserve” rewards and punishments.

To think that when I say “it’s nothing”, I’m being humble, which is a positive value, isn’t it? No, this is a false modesty – to see our own value as below what it really is. This is how we’ve been “educated” – to hide our light, or to pretend we are modest. Healthy humility means recognizing our positive value (and not exaggerating our value by bragging or arrogance).