A friend and I met for a beer Wednesday night. There’s one thing you should know about him – he’s a genuinely good soul, one of those super-nice guys who cares about everyone. He’s outgoing and quickly turns strangers into friends.
Later in the evening, a woman approached our table with an envelope in her hand. It turns out my friend is her boss. She works remotely, so she doesn’t see him in person very often. The envelope contained a gift card she had just purchased from the restaurant.
“I saw you over here and just wanted to give you this,” she said. “You’re the best manager I’ve ever had, and we all appreciate you so much.”
My friend was touched. He responded with the typical, “You shouldn’t have” and “You didn’t need to do that.” He appreciated her kind gesture, but I could tell it made him uncomfortable.
After his employee left, my friend said he felt guilty accepting the gift. “I should probably give it back to her,” he said.
That triggered some thoughts I’ve been pondering lately: gratitude versus guilt and the importance of graciously receiving gifts.
“She doesn’t want you to feel guilty,” I said. “She wants you to enjoy it and appreciate her for thinking of you.” If he tried to give back the gift, it would make her feel bad. “The more you appreciate that gift, the more it means to her.”
When we give someone a gift or a compliment, what we really want is heartfelt gratitude, not guilt. We want to hear “Thank you” instead of “You shouldn’t have.”
A similar theme came up last night when I attended a church service for Maundy Thursday. For those who aren’t familiar, that’s the Thursday of Christianity’s Holy Week leading up to Easter this Sunday.
In his sermon, Rev. David Nordstrand quoted St. Francis of Assisi: “For it is in giving that we receive.” He also mentioned the oft-quoted biblical adage, “It is better to give than to receive.” But then he said something that really resonated with me – Not only should we be givers; we should be gracious receivers.
“When you fail to receive,” Nordstrand said, “you deprive someone else of the opportunity to give.”
If everyone gave and nobody wanted to receive, no giving would ever take place. We have a social duty to give to others, but we consequently must graciously receive others’ generosity. This applies to both our personal and professional lives.
The word “gracious” is related to gratitude. You’ll recall I earlier mentioned “gratitude versus guilt.” My friend felt guilt when his employee showed him a level of kindness that he didn’t feel he deserved.
The problem is that guilt is a non-productive emotion. Sometimes people will say they achieved success because they “got lucky,” or they “had a good mentor,” or their “parents gave me a head start in life.”
Indeed, luck does play a role in success (if for no other reason than we have no control over the natural talent we are born with or without). But there’s little value in feeling guilty for luck; It’s healthier to just be grateful.
None of this is to imply that you shirk your responsibility to help others and contribute to the greater good. None of this means it’s okay to be a dishonest broker who screws over clients. Rather it means you move forward, doing positive and productive things, instead of being hindered by guilt.
I currently see too much guilt-oriented behavior. It’s even kind of fashionable to chat over coffee with friends and express feelings of guilt for whatever reason. Unless you turn that guilt into gratitude and move forward with worthwhile actions, guilt talk is a waste of time.
I recently found a quote from legendary sales guru Brian Tracy: “Leaders think and talk about solutions. Followers think and talk about problems.”
In that same vein, “Leaders feel gratitude. Followers feel guilt.”
The most effective leaders are quick to accept accountability, but they’re also the ones who graciously accept credit when it’s deserved. Brokers are most effective when they are similarly grateful.
I encourage you to do an honest self-assessment: How receptive are you to others’ generosity? Are you gracious? Do you have unnecessary, counter-productive feelings of guilt? If so, how can you channel that guilt into something that’s positive and productive?