The Power of Thanks, The Old Fashioned Way

Author: Gayle Goodman

I remember when I was a child, after any birthday party I had – pretty much on the heels of the guests leaving – my mother would sit me down at the table and get me started on writing hand-written thank-you notes.

Being a kid, I would grumble about it and say I’d much rather play with my cool new toys than write and address a bunch of notes. But my mom was insistent – she said if people were kind enough to spend their money and time on getting me a gift, it was a small thing to take time to properly thank them for their effort.

I was always that kid whose note would show up in the mailbox one or two days after the event – like clockwork. Until I reached the age of 14, when my godmother sent me a ring with a garnet set inside it for my birthday. It was by far the nicest gift anyone and had ever given me. And what did I do? I didn’t bother to call, or write (this was before email and texting, mind you). I got away with it because my mom was out of town when the package arrived.

Upon her return, my mom got a call from my godmother, making sure the gift had arrived – having not heard, she was worried it had been lost in the mail. Needless to say, I got a severe dressing-down from my mother for not acknowledging the gift. In the process, I realized my selfishness and I felt deeply shamed.

Ever since then, I’ve been the queen of the thank-you note. I write a thank-you note any time someone has given me a gift – even if it’s the gift of their time to meet for coffee, lunch or otherwise to provide me with guidance or information I need. I also make a point to write a personal note and mail it to new people I meet.

Is this a crazy exercise? I don’t think so. Being a parent myself, I now make my daughter sit down and write those notes. We recently spent the good part of a weekend sending birthday gift thank-yous, as well as notes to people who donated to her Jump Rope for Heart campaign at school. Being a heart hero herself (she has a pacemaker), she far and away raised more money than any other kid at the school. That deserved a few minutes of grueling hand-writing in thanks, if you ask me.

But what’s the return? For those of you who do the thank-you note, you probably experience the same thing I usually do – you don’t necessarily get feedback from people about the notes you send. Someone might mention it the next time they see you, but by and large, I never get email notes thanking me for my thank-you.

But they have impact – I guarantee you. Allow me to explain.

I recall about a year ago I met a woman at a TCU Alumni networking event. She was a positive, bright and upbeat person and we hit it off immediately. It also turned out that she worked in marketing like me, and she was in the market for a new job. We agreed to meet for a one-on-one lunch the next week so I could learn more about her goals and see if I could help her.

During the course of our time together, our conversation turned to more personal things and she shared a story that absolutely floored me. At the time she lost her position with her last company, her grown and only child had been diagnosed with a cancer that she’d overcome when she was a toddler. Rather than regret the loss of her job, this woman was grateful for the change in her circumstance because it allowed her precious time when she needed it most in her life. She was able to spend months caring for and being with her daughter, who eventually succumbed to the cancer and was buried before reaching the age of 30.

I was stunned to hear this story and – very uncharacteristic for me – it left me with no words. How could this amazingly bubbly, outgoing person have a backstory of such tragedy, yet remain so positive? I have to admit, she inspired me far more than I let on, I’m sure.

A couple of days after our meeting, I received a hand-written thank-you note from her expressing her gratitude for my time, energy and guidance. It felt good to receive her note, because it validated that I had provided something of value to her. However, to this day I still feel I received far more value in meeting her – and learning from the courage and faith of a woman who had been through the worst possible thing a parent can face.

I don’t recall if I sent her an email to acknowledge her note, and it’s quite likely I did not. But here I am – more than a year later – still recalling the image of her words on a linen card, and it fills me with warmth at the memory of the meal, and the feelings, we shared. I will never forget her. And any time she needs anything from me, I’ll be quick to respond.

Your hand-written notes may not carry quite this impact, but I am confident that consistent application of them will speak volumes of your personal brand – and make you memorable.

Challenge the Norm

I sincerely believe it pays to be thankful, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to invest the time to make sure others know you are. Here are some guidelines I use in expressing gratitude:

  • Email Thank-You: These are appropriate for responses to your requests – most of the time, people who send us what we need or want will get a nice “thank you!” email. That’s likely enough. Also, if you feel “speed of delivery” is the key, go with email.
  • Written Thank-You: If someone spends significant time from their busy day to do something for you, they deserve some of your time in return. Maybe it’s lunch, coffee or a phone call. Or, maybe it’s going above-and-beyond on the job. I recently wrote a nice thank-you note to my bankers, because they helped me solve a thorny financial problem. Yes, it’s their job. But they could have easily seen it as too much trouble to assist a small business owner.
  • Gifts: Think about your employees and your client base. They either give you a lot of their time and energy, or their money, annually. Isn’t that worth a thank-you gift? Typically gifts like these are sent at year-end, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. During the Great Recession, I think companies pulled back on these efforts due to budget. And perhaps with everyone’s special dietary needs these days, we shy away from the goodie basket. However, I think when Thanksgiving rolls around, we count calories about as often as we do pennies, and goodie baskets are fine. But you can also be creative in your approach. The last two years, we as a company chose to thank consultants who teamed with us over the prior year with a Giving for Good donation card from one our clients, The Dallas Foundation. It was a win-win-win, in our book.

You never know where expressing gratefulness might lead – perhaps new work, a new connection, or a bit of knowledge you need at an important time of your life. After all, everyone needs help at some point. Showing you’ll appreciate it may ensure you can count on getting it in the future.

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