We talked about handwritten notes in the article on Personal Rituals, but they deserve their own write up.
The Handwritten Note…ahhhh so much is said about this little gem, but few people take the time to unleash the power of showing their appreciation, gratitude, etc… with pen and paper.
We now live in a social media crazy world where many people constantly seek productivity shortcuts. The idea of going “Old School” to actually write a letter, place a stamp on the envelope and then mailing it to someone seems antiquated. However, the extra effort is always noticed and appreciated by the recipient. Have you ever received a note in snail-mail, opened the envelope, felt the joy of great stationary, and said “DAMN THEM…they should have sent email or better yet…. a text!”?
If the situation that causes you to reach out to someone to say “thank you”, “congratulations”, or “nice to meet you” is all about self, then of course you want to take the easy path. However, if the motivation is about the other person, then it means more when you take the extra effort. When deciding if a handwritten note is the proper way to express your feelings (instead of email or text) you only need to ask the question “Is the recipient worth a few extra moments in time?”. If not, why are you reaching out at all?
Some argue against the handwritten note (I am shocked this is a debatable topic). In March 2012 I wrote a rebuttal on this blog to a dumb article on Business Insider (by an author who was hoping for such rebuttals, not really for creating great journalism) that belittled the idea of a handwritten note after a job interview. The truth is that if you don’t want the job, then take the easy path…. but there are few situations where the tangible letter would not be a good idea.
There is a lot of buzz each year about “Gratitude” (this comes up all over the internet and traditional media every Thanksgiving) and this brings with it all the advice about sending more handwritten notes. I do not think that many people listen. I suggest that less people send notes via the US Mail now that in the past. Since others are not doing this…. doesn’t it sound like a great way for you and your company to get noticed? Doing what others do makes you a commodity.
Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell’s Soup has written over 30,000 notes to employees and others throughout his career (he mentioned it in 2011 in an article on the HRB website). That is a lot of notes, but not hard to accomplish if you write regularly. If the CEO of a major company can write so many notes, then the lame excuse of not having time gets tossed away. I send about 5 notes each week to people I meet, clients, friends celebrating something cool, or those who refer business. Simple math shows that over a 25 year career this equals over 6500 notes since I began the process of writing letters. Even if some weeks I didn’t do it, I bet the number is well over 5000. I am gaining on you, Mr Conant.
The excuse of bad handwriting is also not going to cut it. I have rotten handwriting, but I can write slow and make it legible. We can fabricate a million excuses, but the real point here is to put the attention of your effort on the other person. Even doctors can write better if they try.
In 2014 I promoted “The Year of the Handwritten Note”. I challenged people to pay attention to the people in their life that are worthy. When I speak at events I often talk about the power of notes and after my talks there are many people who come and tell me how they agree that a handwritten note made them stand out from the competition. They have been hired for jobs, selected as vendors, etc…. because of a note. But my effort never took off. Nobody cared in 2014, and less people care now about the handwritten note.
But I promise you, if you embrace it as a personal ritual, and you send notes, you will have a more successful career. Period.