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Whatever happened to thank you? Thoughts on gratitude

Several months ago, a former student of mine, about to sit for the bar, asked me to write for him the letter of recommendation his application package required. Although at that time my schedule was hectic, I was happy to do so and accommodated his request, completing the letter and mailing it off to him well in advance of the bar deadline. I emailed him to let him know it was on its way.

Several weeks passed, and I heard nothing at all from my former student — not an email or phone call to let me know he’d received my letter. I grew concerned that the letter had gone astray and he had failed to receive it. Then, as the days passed, I became annoyed that he hadn’t acknowledged an effort undertaken on his behalf and at his request. At last I emailed him to ask if the letter had reached him. Yes, he wrote back, it came. And then, as an afterthought, he added, by the way, thanks.

His casual response disappointed me. I had taken time to reflect on my personal knowledge of him and his character and then draft with care a letter to help him achieve an important professional goal. Yet it never occurred to him to contact me to reassure me that my letter reached its destination and that he appreciated my help.

Expressing appreciation requires little effort yet means so much to the recipient. You can pick up the phone, send an email, even write a note. Yet failure to do so results in great cost. It saddens me that my former student has unthinkingly burned a bridge. It is unlikely now that I will ever send a client or business opportunity his way.

His carelessness made me think a lot about what “thank you” really means. It is not simply expressing gratitude for the extra mile, the care, the thought. “Thank you” is also about renewing or building relationships. “Thank you” honors a past deed. “Thank you” affirms hope for the future.

If someone gave you advice you asked for, put you in touch with people who could help you, referred you business, linked to your web site, made available resources so you could get something done, or otherwise did you a good deed, thank them. Although some (like gratitude’s fiercest champions, attorneys Dan Hull and Holden Oliver) would suggest a hand-written note (preferably on Crane’s stationery), others like me would say the message itself matters more than the medium in which it is delivered.

Just say it. Right now.

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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