Eight little letters

There is one phrase separates us from the beasts: two words that make an enormous difference in the way that we’re perceived and in the way that others perceive us.

But there’s one problem with these eight letters; we’ve become so accustomed to just letting them spew out of our mouths that at times it seems like the phrase has lost all meaning.

Thank you

No matter where you go and what you do, it’s a matter of basic politeness to thank people: from the kind person who opens the door to the barista at Starbucks who labored for three arduous minutes making that venti half-caf-double-soy-salted-caramel-butterbeer-chai-frappucchino that’s all the rage right now.

Society isn’t wrong in requiring that we thank them. And in all honesty we all owe Starbucks baristas more gratitude than we currently give them for putting up with our increasingly complex coffee orders.

This isn’t a case of righting some social wrong; as a whole we’re pretty grateful. It’s a matter taking the time to make sure that certain thanks we give carry just that much more weight.

Boxing it all up

I lead a team of packers–from 40 to more than 250, depending on the time of year. Shifts that large are so complex that they seem organic–possessing a life-like quality that manifests itself in the relative ease with which issues can arise and escalate. Every day, I have to move members of my team from work station to work station, process path to process path, and department to department to keep everything balanced.

Every time, I finish each conversation with those eight little letters.

Thank you.

My biggest issue is that the phrase has become gratuitous–and that it will soon stop conveying actual gratitude; that one day saying “thank you” will become instinctual to the point of banality: much like the words “my pleasure” lose all meaning the instant anyone walks into a Chick-Fil-A.

20120730-chick-fil-a-food-lab-27
Especially when this is rewarding in and of itself

Real gratitude involves more than just saying the phrase, it’s showing it.

Ten minutes a week

A few months ago, senior office staff unveiled their newest initiative to help managers show appreciation: blank cards for us to write a quick thank you note and mail out.

A few days after sending the first notes out, I had members of my team come up to me and thank me for the card. Those cards were physical manifestations of gratitude, a small token that I took the time to craft specifically for someone.

Their success and failure comes down to their composition. Having written many thank you notes, I’ve found that the following three things make thank you cards effective:

  • Specificity
    • Just saying “Thank you for your hard work” will come across as so unbelievably generic that they risk coming across as more heartless than no note at all. Rather than waste paper and ink, take the time to lay out the context as to why that person is being thanked.This all comes down to personalisation. One note that points out specifically what that person did to help and what impact it had on your day and life carries exponentially more weight than a blanket statement. Remember, you’re writing to an individual, not a group. Point out exactly where the gratitude came from
  • Handwriting
    • Printed cards might be more legible and easier, but there’s something about taking the time to put pen to paper that yields a note carrying that much more weight. It’s evidence that you didn’t just copy and paste the words onto the paper and hit CTRL+P–it demonstrates thought and time and craft. The person that helped you donated their time to you. Give them your time through the note.
  • Restraint in number
    • It’s tempting to send everyone on a team a thank you note at the same time–and that’s fine after major events–but notes carry more weight when they’re limited releases. What’s more, the more that get sent out the more generic they begin to sound as the mind numbness starts to kick in. Rather than flood people with a wall of bland gratitude, keep them consistent and genuine. Make them in small batches and make them a habit.

Since I sent my first note all those months ago, I make it a goal to write three notes a week. This is a habit that I intend to keep throughout my life. It takes not much time at all. But for the recipient, it can mean the world.

It’s a matter taking the time to make sure that certain thanks we give carry just that much more weight.

Cover image by Aaron Burden

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Erik says:

    Hey, Raul. I really enjoyed reading this. One of my first blog posts — back in 2011 — was about this very thing. Reading your take on it just now reminded me that this is a positive habit I don’t do quite as often as I used to or as I’d like.

    I think in this modern world of inspirational memes and tweets, where we are glutted with an almost “competitive niceness,” it’s easy to respond in a nearly Pavlovian manner:

    1. Get quick warm fuzzies.
    2. Say, “Mmmmmm” while nodding our agreement.
    3. Promptly forget it and move on until the next comes across the screen.

    I hope people will give your thoughts more than an “Mmmmm,” but will rather move right from reading to action: jotting a sticky note reminder or, better still, stopping to write that first thank-you to someone.

    I will. So know that your words matter and are changing things “out here.”

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