I admit it, I love to receive notes. I love opening the mailbox and seeing the small envelope with my name and address handwritten on it. Whether it’s a few lines or a page long, I love reading and rereading the words. I love those notes so much that I save them: I have a file drawer full of all the handwritten notes I’ve received.

I’m also a note sender. Although I’ve always been pretty good about notes of gratitude or acknowledgment, I have become particularly sensitive in the last year and a half to sympathy notes, as well. I cannot tell you how deeply I was touched by the notes and cards of condolences I received after my father died. So I have made extra efforts over the last several months whenever someone I care about has lost a loved one to reach out with a few well-chosen, handwritten words. I know how much those words have meant to them, because they always tell me. I’ve had people seek me out to thank me for my note—some have even written a note back to thank me!

I simply cannot overestimate the power of a handwritten note. Whether it’s a thank you or congratulations, birthday wishes or condolences, a note is tangible proof that you are thinking of someone. Whether you do it as a strategic business strategy or simply an act of good will, it is a powerful gesture that has high pay-offs. Why? Because:

  • It shows that you care.
  • It’s memorable.
  • It makes the recipient feel important and special.
  • It gives you, the sender, a sense of good will and satisfaction.
  • It reflects well on you because it’s a gesture that says you have quality and class, traits that enhance success.

Tom Peters once wrote an entire column on the importance of a handwritten note. “We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch,” he said. “And of all personal touches, I find the short, handwritten ‘nice job’ note to have the highest impact.”

Occasions that could call for a handwritten note:

  • thank you
  • congratulations
  • condolences
  • best wishes
  • encouragement
  • apology
  • or an “FYI, this made me think of you…”

And while the random act of note-writing will delight your recipients and no doubt make you more memorable in their mind, remember that some occasions do in fact call for a note, and not sending one could brand you as rude or an ingrate—not traits that will serve you well in your career or your friendships. And a primary occasion that calls for a note is when you receive a gift, which is never more prevalent than here at the holidays. Whether it’s your great-aunt Alice or your co-worker, whether it’s a client or a neighbor, if someone has given you a gift, please thank them with a note.

Will an e-mail do?

While it’s certainly better than no acknowledgement at all, keep in mind that an e-mail lacks most of the characteristics that mark a note: it’s not hand-written, it’s not transmitted on nice paper stock or a card, it’s not addressed and stamped and mailed. So to make the appropriate and respectful gesture of thanks, pull out that thank you card and start writing.

What can I say?
You don’t have to write a literary tome. Brief is fine as long as it’s specific and genuine.
Not:  Dear Sue: Thank you for the nice gift. It was very sweet of you…  
Instead:  Dear Sue: Thank you for the engraved letter opener. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s extremely practical, as well. It’ll get a lot of use!

What if I don’t like the gift or I can’t think of anything nice to say?

Honesty does not mean full disclosure. You don’t have to tell your colleague that you already have 29,000 letter openers, or inform your aunt—who knitted you that muffler that you’ll never wear—that you hate the color. Instead you can still express appreciation for their gesture and the thought behind it.

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