Notes of Gratitude

Do you remember the last time you received a handwritten note from a colleague or client thanking you for the work you did on a particular project? Or, if not a handwritten note, an email or a small gift as a token of gratitude? How did that acknowledgement feel? In my role at Harvard University over the course of fourteen years, I knew a handful of colleagues who prioritized writing such notes for those they had worked with. My direct supervisor was one of these people: often when I walked into her office she asked for a moment to finish writing a card of gratitude to someone – a team member, a custodian, a dining hall worker. I was the recipient of a few of these cards myself, and the words inside were always well-chosen, heartfelt, and meaningful. Occasionally, too, I receive an email from a reader of this blog letting me know the difference these posts make in their workplace, which without fail brightens my day.

You may already be familiar with the idea of “love languages” – the theory that we each experience being loved or appreciated in different ways: acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. The theory suggests that each person has one primary and one secondary love language. We tend to show appreciation for others in the way(s) that we would most appreciate ourselves, which can be a mismatch for that person’s own love languages, causing confusion or a feeling of “you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

This is primarily a theory about romantic love (which might be helpful, with Valentine’s Day coming up next week!), but it’s worth considering that different people feel appreciated in different ways in the workplace too, where these are more commonly referred to as “languages of appreciation“. We will look at some of the other ‘languages’ in future posts, but for now let’s focus on words of gratitude and affirmation. Depending on the workplace culture, personal notes might feel secondary to public acknowledgement, so such notes are by no means the be-all and end-all. But for many people, notes of gratitude are immensely powerful ways to show appreciation.

This week’s tip:

Take some time this week to write a personal note (or two) to show gratitude to a colleague, teammate, client or vendor. Before you begin writing, take a few minutes to silently reflect on why this person came to mind, and what specific qualities you want to mention in your note. Don’t rush it – be authentic! Call out ways that they have contributed to you or made your work or your day easier. If you have a mailing address for this person, consider sending this as a handwritten card. If your work or personal budget allows, you might consider including a small gift card to purchase a coffee or some other treat (in most cases you can set this up online if you’re not sending a physical card). If you enjoy doing this, do it for someone else! Perhaps you might want to try writing ten cards to ten different people over the next ten weeks, but for now, start with one.

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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