Entries in Gratitude (3)


Too Much

My husband was carrying our two-year-old daughter up the stairs at the end of a long Thanksgiving Day, which had started with watching the Macy’s parade, continued with learning the game of hide-and-seek from her older cousins, and finished with a delicious feast.  Our daughter was exhausted, and when my husband commented that it had been a busy day, she sleepily replied “Too much!”

She probably meant that there had been too many activities crammed into one day, but her comment started me thinking about having a special day for giving thanks.  One day a year isn’t really enough; most of us have so many things we should be thankful about that if we really tried to give thanks for all of them in a single day it would indeed be too much.

I’m not talking here about giving thanks in a religious or spiritual sense, though that can also be important.  I mean giving thanks to people who have helped you with your job or your life, and made you the person you are.  Of course, common politeness prompts you to say “thank you” many times a day – when you receive your change at the grocery store, a co-worker holds an elevator door for you, or your spouse passes the salt at the dinner table.  But while such daily thanks are an important social lubricant, generally only the most trivial services get thanked in this manner, and sheer repetition robs the phrase of much of its meaning.

Make a regular practice of thanking people who help you

Pick some regular time – once a week, once a month – to thank someone.  It could be your boss for giving you some good advice, or a co-worker who got you the information you needed to complete your report.  It could be your neighbor, who always plows your sidewalk with his snow blower when he is plowing his own.  Or it could be your eighth grade English teacher who introduced you to Jane Austen – though you may have to do some searching on the internet to track her down.

Of course, giving thanks shouldn’t be limited to this regular schedule – any time you encounter exceptional service or assistance is a time for thanks.  We’ve all had the experience of poor, inattentive service at a retail store or an airline check-in counter, and may have grumbled something about writing a letter of complaint to the management.  But it’s when you receive great service, and the salesperson or check-in clerk goes above and beyond to find the shoes you need or get you on the right flight, that you should be writing a letter, to let the person and their manager know how much you appreciated the help.

At this point in the newsletter I would usually give a client story, a concrete example of how one of my clients followed my advice and it helped his or her career.  But I’m going to break from tradition here because career advancement is not the reason for this suggestion.  Sure, thanking people is a great networking tool, allowing you to keep in touch with people and making them feel positive towards you, but that’s not why you should do it. 

Instead, you should thank people because it makes you feel good – it forces you to remember how many people have helped you and continue to help you every day, and showing gratitude can take you out of yourself and give you greater enjoyment of life.  And you should thank people because it’s the right thing to do; too many people do a great job of helping people and never receive a word of thanks.

So I’d like to end this holiday edition of the newsletter by thanking all of you, my faithful readers, for allowing me to share my views with you over the years, and for the many encouraging comments you have sent me.  Thanks, and happy holidays!


Taking stock on anniversaries

Many large corporations have institutionalized management techniques that are beneficial in theory, but detrimental in practice.  One example is the annual performance review.  It sounds like a great idea – at least once a year, managers and employees should sit down and talk about what they’ve done in the past year, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and make plans to improve things in the future.  If approached in the right spirit by everyone involved, it can be an extremely useful exercise. 

But in too many companies, the review process has turned into a burden for overworked managers and employees, who have to take time out from getting things done to compose elaborate “goals and objectives” documents that are already obsolete by the time they are approved; the process becomes one more distracting bureaucratic hurdle standing in the way of getting your job done.

Still, the idea if not the typical practice of an annual review is a good one, and whether you work for a company with a dysfunctional review process, or are self-employed or otherwise free of an imposed review, you should schedule time with yourself to consider what you have done in the past year, and what you want to do differently in the coming year.

Periodically review your accomplishments and opportunities, and decide what to change.

This self-review should look at what went right and what went wrong in the past year.  Sometimes you can do it all by yourself, but often you will need to solicit feedback from people you work with or who are affected by what you do – your co-workers, your manager, your clients, or your customers.  Based on what you learn, you can then decide what changes to make for the coming year.  Unless you discover you are completely on the wrong track, these changes don’t have to be numerous or large -- often small, incremental improvements are best.  And remember to schedule time in another year to look at things again, and see if you actually carried out the changes and what impact they had.

You don’t need to review everything you do at the same time; often it makes sense to consider different projects on their own.  For example, September marks the first anniversary of this newsletter, so now is a good time for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished with it, what problems I’ve encountered with it, and what changes I want to make in the future.

Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with how it has gone.  I’ve had favorable comments on the newsletter and simply getting twelve issues of the Positioning People for Success Newsletter out in a year meets the goal I set for myself when I started.  But timeliness has been the biggest problem; you may have noticed that issues have been slipping later and later in the month, and the August issue was so late in the month that some of you received copies that were accidentally labeled “September.”  So my resolution for the next year is to get the newsletter on a firm schedule, with issues going out on the 2nd Wednesday of every month.

However, I can’t really objectively review my own creation, and I have to turn to my readers for help.  Send me an e-mail to let me know what you think of the first year--what I’ve done wrong, what I’ve done right, and how I can improve it in the coming year to make it most useful to you.  Then next September we can both look back and see how I did.


Put it in writing

When I was growing up, my mother insisted that I write thank you notes for any presents I received.  Although I loved getting presents, I always dreaded the day after my birthday and Christmas, when I would have to laboriously write out notes to all my relatives whose gifts I had eagerly opened the day before.  To teach me how to write a proper thank you note, my mother would first write each one for me, but I would then have to copy it in my own handwriting.  The one bright spot in the ordeal was that she would add some humor to the drudgery by signing each of her sample notes with the name of a different cartoon character; for some reason I found it hilarious to read a thank you note signed by Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.

My mother probably just thought she was teaching me proper etiquette, but it turns out she was also teaching me an important business skill.  There was a time when a hand-written note was the normal follow-up to a job interview, networking connection or meeting with a prospective client, but in today’s environment, where most people use e-mail if they bother at all, such a note can really make you stand out and create a favorable impression. 

Send a hand-written thank you note after any job interview, networking connection or meeting with a prospective client.

Part of me still hates writing the notes, so I do everything I can to make it as painless as possible; I don’t want to have any excuse to put it off, since I know that any delay means I will probably never get around to it.  I keep a box of note cards on my desk with stamped envelopes and my return address already written out.  The first thing I do when I return from a meeting is write the note, seal it, and put it out for the next mornings mail.

I gave this advice to one of my clients who was applying for a new job, and after the first round of interviews she wrote a note to each person who had interviewed her, with a sentence or two about what they had discussed.  She made it into the second round of interviews, and was ultimately hired.  Six month later I happened to see her again, and she told me that she had become good friends with her new boss, who had told her that she had almost not made the cut for the second round, and it was her thank you notes which had pushed her over.