Friday, June 19, 2009

Five Occasions that Warrant a Thank You Card

Saying thank you is one of the simplest and most effective ways to show your gratitude towards someone who has been kind to you. The act of kindness can be small (holding the door open), large (provided a job reference) or customary (sending flowers to someone recently bereaved) but an expression of thanks, whether verbal, electronic or hand-written should be automatic, perhaps even second nature.

And yet, these two unassuming little words cause so much confusion and angst for some that they avoid them all together. I would hate to think that people refrain from sending notes of appreciation because they are intimidated by the protocol around their use. So, no more excuses. Here is a brief summary of when and how to say thank you.

What occasions warrant a thank you note?
Anytime you feel the urge to thank someone is the right time but the following occasions actually demand it:

- When you have received a gift in your business or professional life
- When you have enjoyed someone's hospitality in their home
- If someone has hosted an event in your honour
- Gratitude for sympathy cards, letters or flowers
- When someone has done you a big favour like helped you move or sent a piece of business your way

Is it ever too late to say thank you?
While there is a cultural expectation that you will respond to someone's kindness in short order, it's easy to get caught up in the craziness of life and push your thank you notes further down your to-do list until the very thought of their tardiness keeps you up at night. While it might be embarrasing for you to thank Aunt Edna for the lovely toaster 12 months after you walked down the aisle, it's still necessary. There is no statute of limitations on thank you cards and believe me, people are waiting for them.

Do I really need to send a hand-written note?
What's wrong with writing out a thank you note? Personally, I find it therapeutic but I enjoy Gene Kelly movies and hard-copy newspapers so perhaps I'm out of touch. Hand-written notes are always appreciated and, in today's society with its profusion of electronic communications, they certainly stand out, but they are not always necessary. Formal occasions, such as weddings require a hand-written sentiment thanking your guest for sharing your special day and specifically mentions the gift and how you are using it. However, if a business acquaintance takes you for lunch, an e-mail later the same day will suffice. What's important is that you recognize and acknowledge that someone has shown consideration towards you.

What should I say?
Some people find it intimidating to write thank you notes but it's really quite simple:
-Keep it warm, sincere, enthusiastic and most importantly, personal. If you are sending multiple cards, each one needs to be different.
-If it's in response to a gift, mention the gift, how much you appreciate it and how you are using it
-Make it more about them (e.g. "you are always so thoughtful) than about you

Do I need to thank each person individually?
To express my condolences, I recently donated to a charity when an acquaintance lost a parent. One week later, I was shocked to find myself on the To list of a group e-mail thanking me and several others who had sent flowers or made donations. There are very, very few occasions in polite society where it's appropriate to say thank you to a group of people and this is definitely not one of them. While I'm pleased that there is an expression of gratitude, the use of a 'group' format suggests the sender doesn't value each individual's contribution enough to personalize it. Group thank-you cards are only appropriate where the entire group is already bound together by geography or circumstance (e.g. a department in your office or an existing online forum). If they were strangers before the event that precipitated their kindness, they need to be treated individually when you express your thanks.

There is much to be said on this topic and I'm only skimmed the surface. I would be interested in your feedback, questions or challenges.

1 comment:

  1. I am a firm believer in the thank you note, and I always try to make them handwritten. In fact, I just popped one in the mail this morning thanking a new friend for treating me to dinner.

    How unfortunate that so many need to be reminded to say thank you.