When to Write Thank You

Sometimes it's more powerful to express gratitude weeks, or even months, later.

Research shows that people routinely underestimate the value of expressing gratitude, and overestimate how harshly the literal elements of their thank-you notes will be judged. We may also misjudge when to send thank you notes.

If you’ve just been to a party, or received a generous gift, we've all been told (from a very early age) that you should write to say thank you the next day, or as soon as possible. Forgetting to do so would be rude. But according to organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, when people enhance your life via non-material gifts and informal interactions - mentorship, career advice, networking, informational meetings - it’s more powerful to express gratitude weeks, or even months, later.

As a professor at Wharton, Grant mentors many of his students, as he genuinely believes that sharing wisdom, and giving in general, benefits not only the giver and the receiver, but also the organizations and social structures in which they operate. Indeed, it’s a phenomenon he’s studied extensively.

“I’ve found that the impact of help, like mentorship, is often hard to see in the moment,” Grant told Quartz At Work. “It only unfolds over time.” For this reason, he says, the most meaningful thank-you notes he’s ever received are the ones that have come months or even years later. ”It makes me feel that the time I’ve spent with them mattered,” Grant says. “One of my favorites came from a student who intensely disagreed with my career advice at the time, and years later sent me a note about how I had changed his mind.”

Specificity is key here. “The best notes highlight how your life is different as a result of the advice you receive,” he says.

Furthermore, research from Columbia Business School demonstrates that “givers” - people who are inherently disposed toward giving more than they take - are especially attuned to the impact of the help they provide. In two different studies, organizational behavior professors found that while receivers of help judge their relationships with givers based on the treatment they receive while being assisted (i.e. being treated with dignity, or engaging in open, honest communication), the givers’ commitment to their relationships with receivers is more associated with their judgments of the outcomes associated with the favour they perform.

Essentially, the people who help you most - the “givers” in your life, be they your mentors, friends, teachers, or colleagues - are invested in hearing about the impact of their help on your life. The more positive their impact is, the more committed they are to your relationship.

Original source: Quartz at Work

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