Organizational psychologist Professor Adam Grant says that the impact of a thank you note is much more powerful when it’s received weeks, or even months, after the event:
“. . . I’ve found that the impact of help, like mentorship, is often hard to see in the moment. It only unfolds over time . . . . the best notes highlight how your life is different as a result of the advice you receive.”
There have been oh so many times in my life when I couldn’t have said thank you because I hadn’t yet learnt how much what someone had done had helped me … a teacher in my 6thform helping me with a Hamlet essay being memorable. Also, I haven’t always agreed with people at the time and didn’t know until much later that they were absolutely well-intentioned, and more than that … right; they’d given me good advice. And sometimes I simply hadn’t known what sacrifice someone had made in helping me … only to find out much later (not from them) and to be truly humbled by it (parents, if only I’d known then to be able to tell you).
Being on the receiving end of a thank you note ages after something you did – even if you didn’t realise you’d done it – is so wonderful. I am lucky enough to have received a few messages of this type sometimes months later, even after leaving the organisation where I’d worked with the note-writer – and I can vouch that their missive came as a surprise, a comfort, and was very gratefully received. So much so that they’re stored safely – they’re rather nice to read from time to time.
I’m thinking that perhaps note can be interchangeable with face-to-face thank you, email, letter etc … whichever way it’s done, it’s clearly something that is powerful when done with authenticity and integrity.