Courtesy and Thank You Notes
Mostly I talk to business audiences. This spring I found myself talking to a few audiences that weren't so business focused. I had to take this idea of the 24/7 Professional that's oftentimes a parting message for me when I'm addressing groups, and modify it so that I could talk to people that really weren't there to hear about professional etiquette. I really enjoyed this exercise because it forced me think in a more critical way about what it is that I really want to communicate. What the message about etiquette that I think is most fundamental and most important to leave people with. And I adopted the idea of the 24/7 Professional and I started calling it Courtesy Today. The first thing that I want to say is that how you conduct yourself matters. It really does. How you treat people matters, and it matters in a fundamental way. You have the capacity to make other people feel good. You have the capacity to hurt other people. We have the capacity to empathize and connect, we have the ...
capacity to isolate and exclude. People have very positive associations with the word etiquette, they think about their mother or their grandmother, things that make them feel good. Special meals. People also think about being judged and excluded. They think about arbitrary and old fashioned standards. How etiquette works for you is up to you, but it does matter. It will work for you better if you cultivate an awareness of and care for others. I was giving this talk at university once, and a man came who worked as a sommelier. And he thought that we were going to talk about wine. He wanted to talk to me about wine. This was a talk that I was giving that also had a large dining etiquette component to it, and we didn't happen to talk about wine much that particular night. Turned out this man was also a professor of Buddhist studies, and he came up and talked to me afterwards and he says, you know, this is all about mindfulness, this is all about awareness. That's one of the best compliments I've ever heard about this material, because I couldn't agree more. Cultivating both a care for others and an awareness of others is a really important part of this. Ultimately, etiquette isn't something you know, it's something you do. It's a state of mind, it's a way that you conduct yourself. I was raised well, I learned this stuff. Yeah, but are you nice to people. Because that's what matters. Good etiquette isn't something you know, it's something you practice. So, what does that practice of good etiquette look like? Well, one thing it might look like is writing great thank you notes. My Aunt Peggy was one of the stewards of this tradition while I was growing up. She is a remarkable woman. She writes thank you notes like a savant. I hear from people that worked with my Aunt Peggy all the time, they tell me, I received the nicest note from her. I have all of my correspondence from your Aunt Peggy, she was such a remarkable and kind woman. I say, I know, I've experienced it. I am nowhere near as good as my Aunt Peggy at writing thank you notes, I aspire to be that good. Someday, I won't say I'll be that good, but I will be closer than I am today. Hopefully, somebody that inherits this tradition from me someday will say, you know I heard from people about how nice it was to correspond with you, what a kind person you were, what a gentleman you were. I still have the handwritten note I got from your Uncle Dan, your father Dan, your grandfather Dan, if we're so lucky. So what is a good thank you note, what does a good and effective thank you look like. Well, it could be an email, it could be a phone call, it could be a handwritten note. The medium is part of the message. Pick up the phone, call someone, tell them you appreciated it. If someone did you a favor via email, a little professional courtesy, send them a little email, tell them thanks. If you really want to give that message some weight, some significance, some impact, write them a handwritten note. What might be an opportunity where choosing to write that handwritten note might present itself in a way that would inspire you to actually do it. Well, gifts, substantial favors. Particularly if someone's given you something that you haven't had an opportunity to thank them for in person. That's the example of the grandparent that sends the kid the present. That the parent sits them down and makes them write the reply thank you note. So you just haven't had a chance to physically, in person thank them, so you send the note. Yeah, question.
What's the best way to deliver a handwritten thank you note?
Through the mail, through the post. Absolutely no question. In fact, the first, one of the first tips on the coming slide is going to be that you mail it. I know they call it snail mail today, it's not that slow. If it's traveling within a town or a city it's going to get there within a day or two, if it's crossing the country, it's going to get there in three or four days. It's absolutely remarkable, it's this incredible service for pennies, for fractions of dollars, you can physically take something, hand it to the post office, and they will put a stamp on it that gives it a very official look and feel, and they will carry it and deliver it to the other person. It's incredible. I blow kids minds away when I talk to them about the possibility of using this service and doing this this way. If someone's interviewed you for a position in person, that's another great opportunity. If someone's treated you to a meal in a business context it's particularly nicer if they've cooked you that meal in their home. A retirement party, a major career milestone, someone's 20th anniversary at a business, something like this, these are other opportunities to send a handwritten note, a follow up note, as well as a thank you note. What does it look like, what is the physical nature of that note? A correspondence card is really effective, a four by seven card. If you've got some professional stationary that has your name or your company name on it, use it. If you don't have any stationary that you like to write with people on, if you don't have some stationary that's good for correspondence, this is where I would encourage you to think about getting some. Think about it as part of your professional wardrobe, think of it as part of your personal social skills toolbox. So that vacation home stationary that's got the little bicycle or the balloons on it, isn't going to be your best choice for a business relationship, something with your name on it. The most formal is going to be engraved. These days, there's letterpress, there's thermographic printing, there's just printed notes with your name on them. It doesn't have to have your name on it, it can just be a correspondence card. It can be a fold over thank you note. I like the correspondence card because it's versatile, you can use it in a lot of different ways. An envelope that it fits in. Get it in the mail pretty quickly. Keep it short, three to five sentences. Be gracious, stick to the point. This isn't a full letter, when we're talking about that stationary wardrobe. The full letter is going to appear on a full sheet of paper or a monarch sheet. It's going fold, probably three times, that's for longer form writing. For a quick note or a follow up card, keep it short. Be brief. If you really do keep it brief or short, you could theoretically send a note to everybody that you met with. It wouldn't be that difficult. This is the Mad Libs version of the thank you note. This is the version that you can do without really counting on yourself for anything more than one original thought. Well, you start with a date and a salutation. They're probably going to save it. Dear so and so, just their name up at the top, your first sentence, state your thanks for the thing that your thanking them for. Thank you so much for x, y, z. Second sentence is the only original thought that you're required to come up with. Mention something, anything specific, about the thing you're thanking them for. Third sentence is a follow up action if appropriate. Final sentence, thanks again, and then you use a closing that's different than your final thanks. Sincerely, your name. Just your name. Truly, your name. Best, your name. Regards, your name. It might look something like this. On July 19, 2017, dear Mr. Jones, thank you very much for meeting with me. I enjoyed having the opportunity to find out more about your company. I'm looking forward to working together with your team. Thank you again, sincerely Carla Ramirez. I should use a handwritten font for this, because you're going to write it in your own handwriting. What if my handwriting's so terrible? I think you can probably focus for about three sentences and write legibly. If you can't, look for a penmanship class. Most of us can execute for three or four sentences. Get that stationary you like to write on, get a pen you like to write with, get some postage maybe, keep them all together. The next time you think to yourself, you know I might leverage this opportunity to connect with someone, send them a note, you might actually do it. If you have to walk to the supply closet, the likelihood that you do it starts to go down. If you have to leave your home or your office and go to a post office or a stationary store, the likelihood that you do it starts to dive off a cliff. Set yourself up.
So, I guess this is kind of industry specific, but say, so, I'm a photographer and I just remembered that I had some promo pieces that I had printed awhile back that were like folding cards with a photo on the front of it, would that be, like a good thing to send?
Ideal. I love that idea.
Some people don't like the fold over thank you note, they don't like seeing the thank you printed on the note itself, because even that starts to feel a little perfunctory, they want that thanks to actually be coming. I'm not worried so much about the nature of the stationary that you choose, except that you feel it represents you well. I really like the idea of something that represents your work. I love the idea of a fold over card that has photography that you're responsible for that's part of the business that you're employing that communication in service of. We have, at the Emily Post Institute, a suite of old stationary from different eras of the business, and despite multiple evolutions and cleaning out of the supply closet, I always keep the thank you stationary from the different eras of the business. So I have this stationary drawer where I choose the different kinds of thank you notes, the ones that were part of the 18th edition, the ones that were part of the 17th edition, the ones that are current. And then I've got the separate set of stationary that's just my personal correspondence stationary. I like to play with how I choose and employ the different stationaries to be part of the message that I'm sending. Think about it as part of your professional wardrobe.