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Protocol Police: The 5 “W’s” of Crafting a Handwritten Thank-You Note That Will “Make you” or “Break you.”
Among the myriad of greeting card holidays ranging from “Administrative Professional’s Day,” to “National Pet Day,” January is of all things, ‘National Thank-you Month”. Is this a joke? I propose a healthier and longer-standing tradition—“National Thank-you Year” this year and every year after this one. Handwriting thank-you notes has become such a lost art that maybe if an ad campaign, similar to the “Got Milk?” one were launched to provide individuals with a visual image that reminds them to embrace this all too important gesture, it would finally become the natural exercise that it should be. I’m not talking about the verbal thanks you offer while you’re opening your gift and the quick text or phone call you squeeze in during your post holiday return frenzy. I’m talking about sitting yourself down, with (dare I suggest?) stationery and a better than average writing instrument, then inserting your handwritten heart-felt masterpiece into an envelope, addressing it, adding postage, and finally putting it in the mail. That is the proper way to say, “Thank you!” It is a sure way to impress friends, colleagues, as well as employers whose retention and promotability decisions hinge on how well you’ve positioned your image through fine details like expressing your gratitude via well-crafted handwritten correspondence. People fail to realize that handwritten thank-you notes are not only gestures of good etiquette and appreciation; they also provide concrete evidence that you have strong follow-up skills and a desire to maintain a positive relationship with the person who’s rendered a gift, service, advice, information, or referral.
5 “W’s”: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Who is worthy of your thank-you note?
There are a lot of people worthy of your well-written thank-you note. Those people are: the teacher who spends extra time with your child after school to help with math difficulties; the barista at your favorite coffee house who makes your coffee to perfection and times it flawlessly with your morning train; your neighbor who refers a contractor who’ll save you tens of thousands of dollars on your upcoming spring renovation project; your assistant who stays late on her birthday even when there is no budget for a bonus; your Aunt Alice who spends 3 months knitting a sweater for you with sleeves that are 8 inches too long; the client who refers it’s sister company with twice the business potential of any of your existing clients; your boss who acknowledges your hard work with tickets to your favorite Broadway show. The list goes on, but just to not leave anyone who deserves acknowledgment out; the rule of thumb is that whenever someone does something for you that is above and beyond the call of duty, you should recognize it with a well-thought handwritten thank-you note. It is also appropriate to write a thank-you note to someone with whom you have exchanged gifts. The fact that you gave the person a gift in return does not exempt him from also getting a thank-you note that expresses your appreciation.
What should you include in your thank-you note?
A rushed thank-you note is almost as thoughtless as not writing one at all. Don’t confuse a well-crafted thank-you note with one that is convoluted with words that don’t accomplish the objective. A handwritten thank-you note should be specific, delineating details such as what you love about it, how well it coordinates with other things you own, and when you have or plan to use it. The best thank-you note I received this holiday season was from the cook at my son’s day care. I bought her a very cute “Mrs. Claus” apron. It was red, cotton, and ¾ in length with a white fur trim on the hem and the name, “Mrs. Claus” embroidered across the chest. I don’t really know her that well, but I knew she celebrated Christmas and that cooking was her job, so the apron would be if nothing else a practical gift. She wrote me the neatest, most thoughtful and detailed thank-you note I have ever gotten. She doesn’t even know I write about such topics. In her note, she not only told me how much she loved it, but she also described how the apron had been used to cook so many delicious holiday dishes and how it was used by so many different members of her family. I knew from her note, that my efforts were genuinely appreciated. I think I’ll get her a Mother’s Day gift, just to get another one of her thank-you notes. I have of course archived this note due to the thoughtful and descriptive manner in which it was written.
When should the thank-you note be written?
Ideally, the thank-you note should be received within 24-hours from when the gift was opened or service, advice or referral rendered. . However, if life gets in the way of you handwriting and delivering one within this time frame, please don’t skip writing one altogether. Even if it’s a month later before you get around to doing so, you should still do so. The only risk with waiting longer is that you might forget or omit details that would be fresher in your mind if you wrote it sooner.
Where should the thank-you note be sent?
The thank-you note should be mailed to the gift or service giver’s home address if it is a personal gift or the business address if it is a corporate gift, service or gesture. If you don’t know the person’s mailing address, then you may personally deliver the handwritten thank-you note.
Why should I bother to spend time, effort, and postage on a thank-you note?
It may seem like an annoying, cumbersome, and archaic chore during this era of virtual communication, but handwriting a thank-you note on quality stationery (I’m partial to crisp, white correspondence cards) enhances your image in so many ways. Believe me; it is well worth the effort. Handwriting thank-you note allows you the opportunity to express yourself in a personal way. It shows style, finesse, and motivation—all which are positive characteristics to have in business. Friends, family, acquaintances, and business associates will hold you in higher esteem when you take the time to craft a handwritten thank-you note. As I write earlier, receiving praise on my gift choice makes me want to keep on giving to that recipient since I know she truly appreciates the time I take to choose a gift. Employees who thank me for a discretionary bonus surely stay in my good graces—and yes, I do think of them first when it comes time for a raise or promotion. They are the ones I want to retain, since their graciousness will be exemplary and contagious throughout the firm. For those looking to make a good impression at work or with a client, there is no better way than doing so with a handwritten thank-you note. It also allows you to have that extra bit of “face time” you want in order to be remembered for new business.
Don’t be lazy or sloppy about handwriting a thank-you note, even if you didn’t like the gift, if you are not interested in the job, or if you didn’t get the client that was referred to you. The gesture of handwriting a thank-you note will go along way and it will solidify relationships more than you can imagine. It can be the “make it” or “break it” factor in how you are perceived in your personal and professional life. That’s why I propose “National Thank-you Day” to be everyday...for infinity and beyond!