Early in my career, I hadn’t been exposed to the value of writing letters as a means for showing gratitude or sharing empathy. Thanks to my education, I knew that letters held prominence in our history and allowed for a special glimpse into the lives they affected. Letters of Note author Shaun Usher likes to say that reading this famous correspondence is “a legitimate form of snooping.”
It’s true; our history is punctuated by letters that influence and give us a sense of what it was like to be in the moment. You can read Nixon’s reservations about space travel only days before astronauts first landed on the moon or feel the magnitude of a nation’s sorrow in the nearly one million letters sent to Jackie Kennedy after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Brighter moments bring us correspondence from authors like C. S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf, or Mark Twain, who answered and later shared many letters they received from their earnest readers.
When I was young and a new auditor for what was Price Waterhouse at the time, my financial training taught me to maintain a professional distance so I could remain objective in my reporting. Due to the nature of my role, personalized letters didn’t seem to have a place. But after finishing my MBA, I joined a commercial real estate company that better suited my desire for greater interaction with my clients.
Hayden Eaves was my first boss after grad school, and he had a passion for correspondence. “Whoever you meet, Walt, get their card,” Eaves said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re a broker, customer, city official, or neighbor—always send a thank-you note.” If there was any doubt about this priority, a massive box of personalized stationery arrived on the desk of every new salesperson to cement their words.
I sometimes showed as many as four commercial spaces a day, which meant that I was sending out anywhere from twenty-five to fifty notes a week, thanking my new acquaintances for the opportunity to connect. Writing these daily letters became second nature, and it was a positive habit that endured well beyond my career at Trammell Crow.
You could say that each note was a small act of gratitude and that they became the building blocks of my own self-study in the connection between offering thanks and success. The more I acknowledged the support of others in my success, the more they wanted to me to succeed. My success became our success.
Never miss a post about leadership, transparency, and trust by signing up for my weekly mailing list, delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
I firmly believe that showing gratitude is fundamental to building your reputation and achieving your professional goals. If gratitude is part of your daily ritual—especially in the written form—you’re formalizing the fact that your milestones are shared accomplishments. We know from experience that when we see someone recognized for reaching new heights, it’s often the work of many people rather than the effort of the individual.
What was once a learning moment early in my career has become a daily ritual that’s had a tremendous impact on me personally and professionally. I encourage you to try expressing your gratitude via letters or emails. Make it a daily commitment. Before your day begins and you look at your phone or turn on your computer, think of someone with whom you can express gratitude. Think of several people if you can.
Influencing others through the written word—specifically letter writing—has a long and celebrated history, and for good reason. Putting your thoughts in writing gives your acknowledgment permanence and significance. It’s a humble gesture by nature. When gratitude is packaged in this way so your recipient has time to process it, the outcomes are far-reaching and become the foundation of your shared success.
This is the second installment in a three-part series on the power of influence through the written word. In this series, I highlight three practices that have become an important part of my daily routine. Read parts one and three.