Get the Thank You

I’ve seen this situation played out countless times: a very confused and frustrated patient askes for help choosing a remedy in the cough and cold section. Here comes her hero, from behind the pharmacy counter, in the white lab coat to save the day. He chooses the perfect medicine for what ails her. The pharmacist pulls himself from what he’s doing to assist someone in the cough and cold section. She is very grateful for his caring and knowledge. She starts to thank him and barely gets a word out, and he has turned on his heel and is headed back inside the pharmacy. The “thank you” has fallen to the floor.

Gratitude, like art, feeds the soul. When you don’t let another person express their appreciation, you’ve missed out on one of the most powerful human interactions. And so does the other person, too, because the interaction is not complete until gratitude is received. 

When you help someone by answering a question, helping them choose an item from over the counter, or doing one of the other many things you do each day to help your patients, you must get the “thank you.”  It’s very simple. After any of the interactions mentioned above, simply pause for a moment, and when the patient says, “Thank you!” make gentle eye contact and say, “You’re welcome.”

That’s it. It’s that simple. But, do you do that? When was the last time you fully received the “thank you”? If you do that several times throughout the day, you will feel energized and happy. It’s quite amazing. It’s like giving yourself little doses of serotonin and dopamine all day long. 

Barriers to Receiving Gratitude

Shortly after observing the phenomenon of “thank you’s” falling to the floor because they weren’t received, I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?!” I set out determined to get the “thank you” from every interaction. It was harder than I thought it would be. 

It was awkward. I didn’t want to look at the patient in the eyes. I was perfectly comfortable making eye contact at the beginning of the interaction, but right after, after they thanked me, I just wanted to bolt. I was afraid that they’d ask me for one more thing. But they didn’t want to take anything else like my time or energy, they wanted to give. They wanted to give me appreciation.

I found myself wanting to say things like, “No problem,” or, “It’s my pleasure,” or, “It was nothing,” instead of “You’re welcome.” When I chose another response, the interaction didn’t feel as good to me so I wondered if the patient felt the same way. 

Here’s the Problem With “No problem!” 

I’ve had many arguments over why this is not the appropriate response to “Thank you.” One of the most compelling is, “But it wasn’t a problem! It’s my job to answer questions patients have.” 

People know you’re doing your job. You’re wearing the white coat, you’ve come from behind the pharmacy counter. Besides, it’s not your problems they are concerned with. They care about their own problem so, when you say, “No problem,” you’re, in essence, saying that their problem has no merit. That’s not the feeling you want to leave them with. You want to leave them with the feeling that you are indeed concerned about their suffering and care enough to try to help alleviate it. 

The same holds true for sentiments like, “It’s nothing.” What was nothing? Their concern? Your advice? It seems like I’m being finical, but words matter. You only have so much time to interact with patients, so make those words count. 

All The Good Things 

Do you remember this Maya Angelou quote?

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Well, this is where it plays out in real life. People will seek you out because you made them feel good by accepting their appreciation. Pretty soon you’ll have more respect than America’s Doctor (you know who I’m talking about), more visits than WebMD, and a tribe of loyal customers. This is good for your reputation and your bottom line. It’s good for you too. 

I timed it once. I wanted to see for how many minutes I felt joy after getting the “Thank you.” It’s nine minutes on average. With enough of the little doses of serotonin you get from receiving gratitude, you can make it through an entire shift feeling happy instead of resentful, energized instead of burned out. It’s good self-care to do things that bring you joy and happiness. 

Getting the “Thank you” is the single best concept I’ve ever discovered in my quest to survive and thrive in healthcare. It requires no equipment and no special training or knowledge. It just takes the willingness to receive someone’s gratitude intentionally.

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