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The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking: We belong together

Lynne Baab • Friday July 6 2018

The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking: We belong together

Giving and thanking shape friendships. When we ask for help, we are giving our friend a gift, the opportunity to give a gift back to us. And when we thank our friend for that gift, we acknowledge we depend on our friend. We need our friend, and we honestly admit that need. And this binds us together.

Brother David Stendl-Rast – who I quoted in last week’s post on giving, asking, noticing and thanking – believes that the person “who says ‘thank you’ to another really says, ‘we belong together.’ Giver and thanksgiver belong together.”[1] When we ask for help, we create a situation in which we affirm that we belong together with the person we are asking for help. When we thank that person, we are continuing to affirm that we are connected.

I have found that asking for small favors is a great way to nurture a fledgling friendship. After we moved to New Zealand in 2007, I have found myself asking all sorts of small questions, “Can you help me understand how the city council works here?” “Can you tell me which restaurants you like?” “Where do you buy gardening tools?” Later, when I acted on the answers to those questions, I felt grateful to the people who gave me the information, and I tried to remember to thank them.

Even though Dave and I had lived many years in Seattle, when we returned to Seattle in 2017, the same process repeated itself. This time it required quite a bit of humility to ask questions about a city which we expected to feel familiar, but of course many things had changed in the decade we were away. We had to ask for help many times, and we have tried to use those instances as opportunities to affirm that we belong together with old and new friends.

Question asking in online settings builds intimacy in the same small way. “Does anyone know a motel near the Los Angeles airport?” Later, thanking the person who provided the name of a motel affirms the connection between giver and receiver.

In New Zealand, I was thousands of miles from my closest friends, but I continued to ask for their help. Using email, I asked for advice, prayer support and sometimes practical help with something I couldn’t do from a distance. And then I thanked them.

The significance of thankfulness in friendship cannot be overestimated. Perhaps gushing expressions of thanks can be overdone, but noticing the many ways the people around us contribute to our lives, and trying to thank them appropriately, is a key friendship skill.

I have watched my mother write hundreds, perhaps thousands, of thank-you notes. She adheres to an old standard of etiquette. Every time she has meal at another person’s house, every time she attends a party, and every time she receives a gift of any kind, she writes a thank you note.

I don’t write anywhere near as many thank-you notes as she does, but I make a concerted effort to notice all the ways the people around me are helping me, and I try to thank them. A personal word of thanks in a conversation, a thank you by email or other online means, and sometimes a thank-you note.

Friends help us in so many ways, even when we haven’t asked for help.

  • “Thanks for listening to me ramble on about my job the other day. It was helpful to get it out.”
  • “Thanks for the lunch we had last week. I enjoyed the conversation.”
  • “Thanks for giving me a lift to the meeting on Thursday. It was great not to have to drive.”
  • “Thanks for photocopying that article you thought I would enjoy. I appreciate that you remembered me.”
  • “Thanks for your email. I loved hearing from you.”

Thanking connects the giver and the thanksgiver. Thanking shapes relationships because it affirms that we value the link between us. Thanking affirms to the giver that their action matters to us. I figure if I thank people for something, they’re more likely to do it again because they know I value it. Thankfulness is positive reinforcement for things I appreciate receiving from my friends.

(Next week: Obstacles to thankfulness in friendships. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at] if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

[1] David Stendl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 17.

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