And getting from an intellectual agreement about the merits of gratitude to daily practice is no easy feat.
Andy Mills, former chairman on Thomson Financial, and a mentor of mine, keeps a “gift notebook” in which he writes down little observations or things he hears from the people closest to him. When his wife’s birthday or son’s graduation is coming up and he needs a gift, he turns to the book. When you make keen observations, note them somewhere.
When first meeting someone, a common conversational entree is to ask about their background. “I’m so thankful that Joanne introduced us — but I don’t actually know how you two know each other,” I said to a potential business partner. “Oh we go way back,” he said. “As freshman we were in an improvisation group together.” Done. As a thank you, I did a little research on improv. Are there theaters where he lives? Could I send him tickets to a show? What about a book or an article? I find a book called Improv, the bible of improv it turns out, used in tech companies as mandatory reading for how to relate to other people. So my thank you is a hand written note paper-clipped to the cover of the small paperback edition of the book. Total cost is about $25 with shipping.
Once you pickup on something that person cares about, showing gratitude can be pretty easy — and fun.
Consider these seven practices:
Send a specific thank-you note. An old-fashioned, hand-written thank you note on nice paper still goes a long way. Be specific, say why you are thanking them, and show them how your conversation made an impact on you.
Too often we fire off notes like this:
Dear Sandra: Thank you for taking time to meet with Jason and me about our company. You are an amazing investor and we really hope we might work together. Is there anything else you need? Sincerely, Evan
This note is nonspecific and uses over-the-top adjectives that aren’t credible. It feels cold and generic.
With a little observation, you could instead write this:
Dear Sandra: Thank you for your time and advice about our paper company. Jason and I spoke for hours about how we might diversify our products, increase prices, and improve design — thank you for those excellent suggestions. We are eager to look up Johnson’s Paper — we appreciate that referral. Thank you for sharing your stories and counsel with us.
PS: I also so appreciated the story about your first company — I can’t believe you sold mangos from a bicycle!
This note provides sincere appreciation for something specific. It shows that we remembered their advice, and paid attention.
Send something fun. Busy people get a lot of inbound communication; if you want to stand out, make your communication stand out. People get fewer handwritten notes than emails, so notes always win. But people get even fewer FedEx packages. So consider a package — or at least something beyond a note. I had some of my favorite quotations printed on nice card stock that I occasionally include in my thank you notes. On future visits to their offices, I’ve seen a few of these quote cards taped to monitors.
My coauthor of Get Backed, Evan Loomis, wanted to send someone who had helped with our book a nice thank-you gift. Bottle of whiskey? Fancy pen? No, thanks. He listened and learned that this person had a 9-year-old son with whom he got into Nerf gun fights. What did we send? The fanciest Nerf gun we could find with a note about never losing another Nerf war. We hope that will be a gift never forgotten.
Make an introduction. Bringing two people together can be a serendipitous and generous act — that can spawn companies, friendships, and even marriages. One friend recently sat down with an adviser who shared that her son had been diagnosed with a rare medical condition. My friend did some research and followed up with this:
Thanks for sharing a bit about your son. I reached out to my friend whose son has the same condition; she did an extensive search and ended up with Dr. Jacobs in midtown – you can reach him here: 555-555-5555
Offer to help — and deliver. At the end of a meeting, my business cofounder Will Davis will often ask: “So – -you have helped me so much here. Is there anything I could possibly help you with?” Following his example, I have received quite a few answers that I could easily help with. For example, one investment firm was looking for a new analyst. I was able to find the job post, circulate it to my networks, and pass along a few interested candidates.
Circle back at a later date. Most people walk out of a meeting and do nothing. More organized people send an email. And the even more organized a hand-written note. But for nearly everyone, meetings are forgotten within a few weeks. Consider staying engaged by setting yourself a reminder to do something at a later date. I met a fascinating founder who was impressively committed to reading a book a week. His habits did challenge me — and I wanted to reconnect around that idea.
Dear Jason: Can you believe it was six months ago we met? I still remember your audacious goal of reading a book a week. I couldn’t keep up – but managed to finish a book a month. By far my favorite was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. How did you do?
Send a video note. This is possibly the most outrageous of these suggestions—and certainly one that might cause Emily Post to roll over in her grave. Eric Koester, COO of Main Street Genome, records a video message on his iPhone and then sends it by SMS as a form of a thank you, follow up, or even an introduction. Sending a video – or even an audio note – lets you convey emotion, enthusiasm, and context in a quick note. At my company Able, my cofounder and I sent a thank you video to our customers — whom we literally have to thank for our jobs and a chance to build a company.