25. Thank You Noted

Tell me one thing that makes you feel good when you come home from work. Just one thing. Is it the dog? The dog jumping up on your legs as if you were lost at sea for the past eight months. Is it the smell of something good cooking in the kitchen? A warm, hearty soup waiting for you. Is it small children screaming for you to look at the pretty picture they made in art today that resembles blood spatter photos from a CSI episode? For me, one thing that makes me feel good when I come home from work it to find a thank you card in my mailbox. Silly right? Not from the perspective of the person sending the card.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

I recently gave a speech at the University of Rhode Island to a group of over 100 seniors about developing resilient leaders. The students, like most of my audiences, laughed at the funny sections, cried at the tearful sections and used their pencils to take notes of my leadership tips. Then, they did something I did not expect. Ten days after my speech I arrived home and found a large paper package in my mailbox. Inside the package were over 100 printed letters and hand written cards from the students. Each expressing gratitude for the time I took out of my schedule and the lessons I provided.

The letters are the brainchild of their professor, Gail Alofsin. In case you’ve never met Gail, you might find her flying around Newport, Rhode Island in her cape with a large S on her chest for Superwoman. Gail is the type of person who makes you feel good about yourself from the minute you meet her and she makes a tremendous, positive impact on the lives of her charges in the Communications class at URI.

Here is a small sample of what the students wrote, “It inspires me that you work hard with everything you do turning your tragic accident into something wonderful that not only helped others with spinal cord disabilities, but you improved yourself.” Thank you for your letter Olivia.

One more, “I learned that when challenges hit you, it’s okay to accept help. Hearing your advice was rather humbling as I struggle with asking for help. But in reality it’s a good thing.” Thank you card Madison.
Now, there may be some skeptics out there that say – “sure they wrote you a letter. It was probably an assignment.” Maybe…maybe you are right. So what? Does it diminish the feeling of joy I had when I opened the package? Hardly.

Maybe we need a different example. Friday, I came home and found a handwritten card in the mailbox. The card had printed Thank You on the front. Inside it read, “Trent, thank you for trusting us to host trenttheroux.com. Please let us know if you need anything!” Signed, the Course Vector Team. I just finished creating my website and moved it to a new host and the hosting team sent me a lovely card. I felt like a champ for spending money with them. No that’s not quite right. I felt like a champ because I was smart enough to select them to do business with. That’s a different feeling. A feeling that I try to give to my customers.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on showing gratitude. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Send A Thank You Card. You heard it. Send A Thank You Card. This theory has been every member of Hallmark’s Board of Directors.

A study published in the journal of Psychological Science by Amit Kumar, professor at McCoombs School of Business at the University of Texas and Nicholas Epley professor at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business showed that expressing gratitude improves well-being for both expressers and the recipients, but not in the way each thought it would.

Participants in three experiments wrote gratitude letters and then predicted how surprised, happy, and awkward recipients would feel. Recipients then reported how receiving an expression of gratitude actually made them feel. Can you guess the results? My magic mirror shows me that many of you…can see where this is going!

Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel. Expected awkwardness and mood were both correlated with participants’ willingness to express gratitude. Wise decisions are guided by an accurate assessment of the expected value of action. Underestimating the value of prosocial actions, such as expressing gratitude, may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own—and others’—well-being.
This means that many people won’t send a thank you card because that don’t expect that the person on the receiving end will be thankful that one was sent. Nonsense! How many times have you sent a meaningless “thank you” email?
“Thank you for sending me the file.”
“Your welcome. Thank you for saying thank you.”
“I happily thank you for thanking me.”

The email drivel chain of tepid platitudes almost drives me insane. The rule I work with is simple. Do not send a thank you email. It’s a waste of time typing and reading. Thousands of hours are lost in productivity sending meaningless emails back and forth. Trent, didn’t you just say that people are grateful for receiving a thank you note. Yes, a thank you note…not a thank you email. There is a significant difference. One takes forethought to have a card or stock paper, find a pen, hand write your sentiments, address the card, apply a stamp and walk to the mailbox. The other requires you to utilize the artificial intelligence in your email system. Get the difference? Can you see why I ban the email thank yous from my office and near burst with joy when I receive one in my mailbox?
Emily Post, the maven of etiquette, would say this, “Sometimes it’s easy to write off a heartfelt thank-you note. Other times, writer’s block can set in—especially when you are staring down a large stack of them. Before you start, remember that thanking people needs to be about just that: expressing thanks. So refocus, reorganize, and rethink the process. Get in touch with the sincerity of thanking people for thinking about you and giving you something.”

Technology has helped this process in many ways. One that I can express has become the hallmark (okay that was a bad pun.)…had become the hallmark of her communications. My friend Penny Tremblay utilizes a service named Send Out Cards to send her thank yous. Send Out Cards is an online service into which you can upload pictures and write messages. I’m looking now at the card Penny sent me when we first met at a speaking event. She took a selfie of us and added a brief note. Three days later, I received the professionally printed card in the mail with our picture on the front and a thank you note our meeting on the inside. Simple, yet a highly effective way of combining technology and etiquette. Which might be doubly helpful for those of us who failed penmanship in the 3rd grade…both times we went through the 3rd grade.

One last quote from a note to close out the podcast. It comes from URI senior Holly Shepard. “You reminded me to call my mother and thank her. She has reiterated to me throughout my life that when things got hard that she wanted me to be a resilient person. I never thanked my mom for her dedication to make me resilient. Your ability to admit failure, succeed from failure and teach people lessons from your failures is admirable. You inspire me.” No Holly, you inspire me. By writing this beautiful letter, you inspire me to touch more people with my story. Thank you.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.

I will be giving a brand new speech in the Providence area on November 21st at the ON Leadership Conference being held at the Crowne Plaza. Search for ON Leadership Conference to view the speaker lineup and buy tickets.
If you’ve got a couple of minutes, please check out my new website, trenttheroux.com. I’d love feedback if you have any. And, while you’re thinking of it – subscribe to the podcast. That way you can get developing resilient leader theories hot off the presses.

I look forward to getting together next time. See you.