A couple of years ago, my husband Brian encouraged me to say “you are welcome” whenever someone thanked me. It has been one of the most eye opening and difficult correctives to institute into my daily interactions. Typically, I say “thank you” when someone thanks me. I am often uncomfortable acknowledging that I deserve someone’s gratitude.
I am not alone. At the end of most recorded interviews, the interviewer will say “thank you” to his or her guest. The interviewee will respond with “thank you.” When orators say “thank you, thank you, thank you” to an audience that will not stop clapping, no real gratitude is being offered or received.
When people both say “thank you” to one another, there is no acceptance or closure in the interaction. It is two moments of gratitude that meet in the middle of the air, then evaporate. When we say “you are welcome” to someone who says “thank you,” we bring radical closure to our interactions. Someone offers gratitude and we accept.
Remembering how to give and receive gratitude is practice in beginning and ending experiences in our everyday lives. This micro practice of “thank you” followed by “you are welcome” is actually powerful time management because we learn how to honor our interdependence with one another and move on.
I recognize there are times when both parties, giver and receiver, are truly grateful. In that case, saying “thank you” and “you are welcome” twice is a clunky, yet still appropriate response.
While I still find it counter-cultural to say “you are welcome” in a world full of “thanks,” I am learning that this new discipline around gratitude is teaching me how to begin and end experiences more powerfully. While it might take courage to accept gratitude from someone else, it seems foolhardy not to try.