These days the thank you note and other expressions of attitudes of gratitude can sometimes seem like an endangered species.  Expressing thanks is an important part of our social well being. 

Several years ago, a colleague asked me to do an informational interview with a young woman who was considering getting into the communications field. Happy to share my knowledge with folks entering the profession and to do this as a favor to my colleague, I met with the young woman on a Saturday for two hours, answered her questions, and gave her the names of a few others to contact. I never heard from her again. 

The thank you, it seems, is becoming superfluous. Maybe the young woman didn’t know any better. But I was offended at what I perceived as a lack of consideration and a sense that she had taken me and my time for granted.

The two most powerful—and under-used—words in business are thank you.  When I was growing up (as my Millennial children would say, “in the dark ages”) I was taught that when someone did something for you, you thank them.  Whether you receive a gift, get some advice, or dine at someone’s house, you drop a note to tell them how you appreciated their thoughtfulness and hospitality. 

Those social rules may have been eroded, but they remain an important consideration, even in the relentless pace of 21st century life, where no one feels they have time. Blame technology, the Internet, even a more relaxed culture. We too frequently overlook an expression of appreciation or “attitude of gratitude” even though we are bombarded with lots of books and messages about the power of gratitude.  We get it in the abstract but we don’t express it enough in daily life. A proper thank you still matters a great deal. In fact, it may even be something that sets you apart because so few people take the time and effort to offer thanks. 

Here is how to create an attitude of gratitude and to say thank you artfully:

  1. Be authentic.  First and foremost, you must be sincere in your appreciation. A pre-printed thank you card or perfunctory expression at the end of a conversation is better than nothing. But expressing thanks is so much more powerful when you sincerely express to someone how much their effort means to you or your business. How did their advice or good deed influence you, change your thinking, or simply inspire you?
  2. Thank immediately.  Don’t wait. Send the note or email within a week after you receive a gift, a card, a meal, or a team member’s extra time to get something done. Remember, gratitude does not expire, so if the impact is long-lasting and profound in your life – reflect and thank those who helped you along the way.
  3. Thank often.  If you are sincere in your appreciation, you can never say, “thank you,” enough.  The thank you is a sign of respect and caring that is impossible to overdo.
  4. Don’t delegate.  Saying thanks is something you must do yourself. The kind deed or extra effort was done for you, not your assistant, not your spouse nor ChatGPT. Take ownership of your appreciation.  And avoid form thank you notes where you fill in the blanks. That’s not just insincere. It’s tacky.

Here are some of the best formats to express your gratitude:

  1. The handwritten note. If time is not of the essence, the handwritten thank you note is still the best way, especially when you invest in a nice card or stationery and put on your best penmanship. The note doesn’t have to be a novel, but it should, of course, thank the person for whatever they did. More importantly it should talk about what their actions meant. Handwritten notes are such a rarity that it will make an impression.
  2. The thank you email.  If you feel too time pressed or you have the nightmarish handwriting of Freddy Krueger (like I do), sending an email is the next best thing. The suggestions above still apply.
  3. The thank you phone call.  This is especially nice following a dinner at someone’s home. It is highly personal because you are having a conversation. Be authentic. Smile over the phone to warm up your voice. If you get voice mail or a machine, leave a thoughtful message.

To appreciate others is one of the most human things we can do.  A big thank you to my clients and colleagues from whom I learn every day.  And thanks to my friends and family, who are always there for me.