How being grateful can lead to great things: the art of saying thank you

“A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things.” – Plato

Although it seems a bit self-serving, never has a truer word been said. Along with greeting older people in the street, the one thing that was hammered into me as a child was the importance of writing a good thank you letter. There were definitely tears at the time, and a bucket-load of resistance, but it seems my folks, in their infinite wisdom, knew what they were talking about.

Throughout my thank-you-letter-writing career there have been, shall we say, peaks and troughs, failures and successes. From their humble beginning as a scribble on a page, I quickly learnt that there was an art to getting it just right. Yes, a simple ‘To Auntie Maud, Thanks for the festive socks.’ gets the message over but does it really convey how much you loved those socks in all their foot-covering glory and why you are thankful? Hmmm, not really. I soon discovered that there was a recipe for the perfect thank you letter. That’s right, a recipe, and I’m going to share it with you.

Saying thank you: the basic recipe

Ingredients:

  • A clear, focused, message of thanks (that one’s obvious right?)

  • Details of what you were given; your ‘gift’

  • A reason why you like/appreciate the ‘gift’ (a dash of context is good here too)

  • How you are going to use the gift and/or the knowledge it has provided you with

  • A large dollop of sincerity.

Method:

  1. Start off by determining the tone of your thanks. If you’re thanking someone for giving you the opportunity to work on a new, exciting project you probably don’t want to use the same tone as you did with Auntie Maud and her show-stopping socks. Think about whether it’s appropriate to be jokey and who your audience is.

  2. Your opening sentence should include the words ‘thank you’ (or words to that effect) and mention what you are thankful for (the ‘gift’).

  3. Then you should go on to say why you appreciate it and how it has improved your life. You may want to include an example of how you have used your gift next, in order to add some emphasis.

  4. Finally, be sincere; the likelihood is that you’ve already got this in the bag as you’ve considered writing a thank you letter, but just ensure that your message comes across as heartfelt.

How can saying thanks help you be ‘great’?

Why is this recipe for thanks so important in our working lives (and beyond)? Expressing gratitude in a meaningful manner can build relationships and develop trust. Putting effort into our thanks helps us to engage properly with our clients and our coworkers. Plato wasn’t daft, and his quote about being grateful and therefore ‘great’, is about the development of deeper relationships and the acknowledgement that being respectful to others will help your own social standing and other people’s perception of you. So whilst it’s great to give thanks to others, you’re also helping yourself out at the same time. 

Saying thank you in the workplace

The simple act of expressing thanks helps build group relationships in the workplace and goes on to cause a ripple effect. Indeed, researchers studying gratitude for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology(1) discovered that expressing thanks also benefits the people who witness the exchange. In eight experiments (with 1,817 participants) they measured how people responded to acts of thanks. They discovered that the participants were more likely to be helpful towards those who expressed thanks and were more likely to want to affiliate themselves with them.

Recognition of greatness!

Whilst saying ‘thank you’ can be a very powerful tool you should be aware that with great power comes great responsibility! Your ‘thank yous’ should be sincere and appropriate. From time to time organisations may want to go that one bit further and run company-wide nominations to recognise those who have gone above and beyond; this will avoid the greatness in an organisation fading into an everyday thank you.

Need some inspiration?

To get your creative juices flowing I’ve included a couple of famous thank you letters below that are out of the ordinary. When you’re next penning a note of thanks perhaps you can take some inspiration from them?

This is David Bowie’s personal response to his first American fan letter. As you can see he’s really taken the time to respond to questions and has used humour and humility to provide a really personal response:

Thank you letter from David Bowie

Neil Armstrong’s gentle self-deprecating humour in this letter of thanks to the EMU ‘gang’ shows heartfelt gratitude for all that they did when they designed his Apollo 11 A7L suit (he described it as “tough, reliable and almost cuddly”!).

Thank you letter from Neil Armstrong

If you’ve enjoyed looking at these examples I would urge you to take a look at the Letters of Note blog; they also run hilarious ‘Letters Live’ events that bring these phenomenal letters to life.

Feeling inspired about how you can apply meaningful words of appreciation in your organisation? Learn how employees are benefitting from peer-to-peer recognition in the Rippl platform by reading some of our case studies. Or, if you’d like to explore more about the positive effects of recognition, read our article on the “ripple effect”

This is a guest post by Dominique Wade.