Friday, July 27, 2018

Send That Thank-You Note

Every once in a while we run into some great advice. You know, like Adm. William McRaven’s advice to the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. Which was: make your bed.

What better than to have the commander of the Navy SEALs explain how best to start your day?

Now, thanks to so-called scientific research, we have another wonderful suggestion, one that is designed to improve your relationships without your even having to confess your most embarrassing secrets in front of all your colleagues. 

The new suggestion: send a thank you note!!! This means, dare I mention, that a thank-you text will not suffice. For the record, the researchers accept thank you email, but if you want to ascend the heights of good character, a written missive is best.

The New York Times has the story. (via Maggie’s Farm). Reporter Heather Murphy explains that it takes a minimal effort to write a thank-you note, but that doing so will elicit many great good feelings. Do the math. You have no reason not to send such notes, except your sloth and perhaps your inability to write a coherent sentence in the English language.

People who fail to send such notes tend to believe that the gesture is outdated and retro. They are therefore saying that they themselves are unimportant to the person whose gift or favor makes them deserve such a gesture.

Murphy writes:

But what did surprise two psychologists as they attempted to get to bottom of why so few people actually send thank yous is that many people totally “miscalibrate” the effect of an appreciative email. They underestimate the positive feelings it will bring.

“They think it’s not going to be that big a deal,” said Amit Kumar, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies well-being.

Derelict friends who fail to send thank you notes amass other reasons why it is right to be wrong:

They also overestimate how insincere the note may appear and how uncomfortable it will make the recipient feel, their study found.

This means that the average individual believes that a thank you note must be an exercise in brilliant, even poetic prose. They have no confidence in their ability to write three decent sentences in English, so they choose the path of rudeness. 

And they imagine that the recipient will feel uncomfortable receiving a thank-you note. I confess that I find that puzzling, because why would anyone feel uncomfortable about receiving the note?

In truth, as the researchers established, people who receive thank you notes are ecstatic and thrilled to receive them. Those who send them expect a far more muted response. This tells us that in an age where the word “empathy” oozes from everyone’s mouth, people have no real sense of other people’s feelings.

Good deeds deserve a thank you note. That means, not just a toss-off verbal expression of thanks. What kind of good deeds requires such a note? Kumar explains:

Sample letters included missives of appreciation to fellow students and friends who offered guidance through the college admissions process, job searches and tough times. In lab experiments, Dr. Kumar observed that it took most subjects less than five minutes to write the letters.

While prospective senders manifest an absence of confidence in their writing abilities, recipients universally reported that they did not care about the occasional syntactical infelicity.

Kumar concluded:

People tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others for a tiny investment of time.

When someone has done something nice for you, send a thank you note. This does not absolve you from the responsibility to return the favor. But, it will do wonders for your relationships.

If you don't believe me, try it. What bad could happen?


Webutante said...

Stuart, this is a terrific post. Thank you notes are vastly under-rated. Hand written notes are a treasure that can be read and re-read so many times. Especially over a cup of tea ir coffee. I tuck them away in my special drawers and pull them out and read from time to time.

It's the little things in life that are often the most important. Dare I say 'thank you' online for posting this?

Ares Olympus said...

I see in the modern world of instant communication hand-written efforts can seem slow and unnecessary, but it makes sense at least a physical letter or gift deserves a mailed thank you reply. It seems like most high school graduates will send a thank you, although some are almost completely prewritten with just a hand signature.

I got a hand written note of gratitude from a coworker's teen daughter after I gave her a KindleFire I won at a xmas party raffle, and I appreciated that and saved it. And the interaction gave me extra motive to recognize her at future gatherings while I didn't even know her name before that.

I recall the Ben Franklin Effect as well, asking for something from someone and showing gratitude can open new relationships while giving them something doesn't work as well. "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged."

trigger warning said...

Gratitude is sorely lacking in our entitlement culture. Thank you notes are simply an expression of good breeding, and I can't help but think of pretty face, fabulist, and lackwit Ocasio-Cortez.