Thank You Cards: Here’s Why You Should Be Writing Them

At this point in late January, it’s fair to say that 2020 is in full swing and that Christmas has come and gone. Whilst most of the holiday gems have already been packed away for another year however, maybe it’s a good idea to consider dragging out the holiday cards again – albeit ditching the festive pine trees, tinsel and bauble motifs for something a little more professional. What I’m talking about is the value in cards – specifically thank you cards. It’s something I have encouraged all top executives to indulge in over the span of my career: that ‘expressing thanks regularly…and doing it well is one of the most profitable business strategies you can have’[1]. Whether it’s helping you to integrate into new workplaces, bringing team member together, increasing productivity through sending a thank you to a ‘Person deserving of your not infrequent acknowledgement’[2]or even helping to build a loyal customer base, a few modest dollars and a little considered time can really transform your working relationships.


What’s so great about a thank you card though? I can hear you saying though. Surely a message written on the inside of a bit of folded paper can’t be that great? That’s not so. As opposed to a throwaway email – e.g. Hi John, Thanks for your effort this week. Best, Misguided CEO – a thank you card requires some exertion. Yes, it might not seem a lot to you, but ‘an old-fashioned, hand-written thank you note…still goes a long way’[3] because it’s not about the expense: it’s about ‘[taking] the time to express your gratitude’[4] and making an above and beyond effort to acknowledge efforts that might normally seem underappreciated to the recipients of your thank you cards. Still not convinced? That’s not a surprise considering many ‘undervalue their own expressions of gratitude’[5] and the impact that a few deliberate kind words can have. In a study in conjunction with the University of Chicago and McCombs School of Business (Kumar and Epley, 2018), it was found that ‘expressers’[6], or those who wrote a letter of thanks to a second group of participants, ‘significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be to receive the letter…underestimated how surprised they would be by the content of the letter [and] underestimated how positive recipients would feel’[7]. The researchers offered the following explanation for such disparity:


People underestimate the positive impact of expressing gratitude on the basis of an ego-centric bias in evaluations of a recipient’s perspective. Expressers are aware of their gratitude before expressing it and also may focus on their competence in expressing gratitude, whereas recipients attend to the warmth that comes from the positive interaction[8].


What this means is that people seem to expect the worth of their expressed gratitude to be based upon some kind of communicative quality – i.e. the value of my gratification results from the words I use – whereas recipients of thank you cards actually buy more into the act of showing sincere appreciation per se and are simply grateful for the acknowledgement of their efforts.


Thank you cards are not only excellent for strengthening a feel good sense in others, however: they can also have a positive effect on you. A study by researchers from the University of California and University of Missouri (Sonja Lyubomirsky et al., 2005) tested groups of students over a six-week period who were ‘instructed to contemplate “the things for which they are grateful” either once a week or three times a week’[9] and found that those ‘who regularly expressed gratitude showed increases in wellbeing over the course of the study relative to controls’[10]. From these results, the researchers suggested that ‘practicing positive psychological “virtues” such as gratitude’[11] can lead to ‘maximum satisfaction and enjoyment [as] distilled from one’s circumstances’[12]. To this end, it’s quite easy to see why actively acknowledging contributions from those connected to you and your organisation in the form of a thank you card can not only benefit the recipient, but ‘can bring about enhanced wellbeing’[13] for you too.


There are clearly obvious benefits to sending thank you cards then, but will this practice really kick off in the business world? The truth is that it already has. To give some famous examples of top executives engaging with the practice: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it one of his legendary yearly resolutions in 2014 to ‘write one thank-you note each day’[14] to staff and various stakeholders. Former Campbell’s Soup CEO Douglas Conant also allegedly wrote ‘at least 30,000 thank-you notes to employees over the course of his 10-year career leading the soup giant’[15]. To this end, all of these ideas ask the question why you may not be writing your own thank you cards at present.


Perhaps it’s because you don’t know where to start. After all, those receiving cards might ‘attend to the warmth’[16] of a card more than specific words themselves, but how exactly do you ensure you convey that warmth? How do you go about making sure your recipient understands that you genuinely appreciate their hard work? Consider employing the following techniques the next time you come around to dishing out praise:


· Be precise in what you’re thanking the person for: as soon as you say something vague along the lines of thank you for yesterday, you lose any real sentiment. Instead, try the advice of one Harvard Business Review author and ‘thank them for something they specifically did that was above the call of duty’[17]. Something along the lines of thank you for yesterday as your energy really helped to carry the team through what was a crucial time for the project. I especially appreciated you taking the time to… would work much better than the previous example as it conveys that you’ve understood what the importance of a person’s contribution is in relation to the relative challenge. Even if you’re not providing praise for hard work but more for a lovely conversation or similar, it’s still important to be specific as it shows you’ve not only thoroughly listened, but actually cared about what that person had to say.

· Results are great to acknowledge, but efforts and sacrifice are even better: if you make your thank you card about how their contribution benefited you – e.g. your x led to us landing that new client – your recipient will still appreciate that you’ve taken the time to acknowledge their effort and achievement, but will feel you’ve thanked them, coldly, as a function, not as a human being. Instead, try something along the lines of thank you for stepping in to give that presentation yesterday. I know you had to stop late because of it and missed time with your son and I wanted to say how much I appreciated your help. In this example, the acknowledgement of their sacrifice shows just how much you value not only a person’s contribution, but the person themselves.

· Follow up on your praise: apart from to make sure it was properly received instead of being lost in the post, knocked off a desk my mistake, et cetera, following up on a thank you card is important because it reinforces that you genuinely cared about the contribution. It doesn’t have to be much, but even making a phone call a week or two later with a few nice words can make all the difference.


As a final idea, I thought it might be worthwhile to apply some of the lessons learned to the concluding thoughts; so thank you! Specifically: thank you for taking the time to engage with this article, whether that’s simply reading all the way to this point or by also offering your own ideas via email, our social media accounts or any other platform. Your sacrifice: you didn’t have to spend the ten/fifteen minutes of your day reading any of this, but you’ve chosen to do so without any obligation and your involvement makes conducting this kind of research both more valuable as a whole and more fulfilling for myself and our researchers to conduct. Thank you.


Citations:


[1] Joey Faucette, How to Tap the Power of 'Thank You', entrepreneur.com, (Irvine: Entrepreneur Media, Inc., 2011). [2] Evan Baehr, 7 Ways to Thank People in Your Network, hbr.org, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing, 2015). [3] Ibid. [4] Bruce Weinstein, How To Reclaim The Lost Art Of Handwritten Thank-You Notes, forbes.com, (New York: Forbes Media, 2018). [5] Judie Kinonen, Thanks, but No Thanks, mccombs.utexas.edu, (Texas: McCombs School of Business, 2018). [6] Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley, Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation, Psychological Science, 29, no. 9, (Newbury Park: SAGE Publishing, 2018), 1426. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] Sonja Lyubomirsky et al., Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change, Review of General Psychology, 9, no. 2, (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2005), 126. [10] Ibid. [11] Ibid, 119. [12] Ibid, 125. [13] Ibid, 133. [14] Jena McGregor, A Thank You Note from Mark Zuckerberg, washingtonpost.com, (Washington DC: Washington Post, 2014). [15] Ibid. [16] Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley, Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation, Psychological Science, 29, no. 9, (Newbury Park: SAGE Publishing, 2018), 1426. [17] Mark Goulston, How to Give a Meaningful “Thank You”, hbr.org, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing, 2013).

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