Saying Your Thank Yous: Underrated Influencing Tool

Many years ago I visited a graphic design studio. On a huge empty pinboard someone had pinned a tiny email saying just "Thank you for the brochure". When I asked why it was there one of the designers told me it was the first time anyone had ever sent one and they were immensely proud.

Since then I have always been careful to thank people whenever appropriate and also to teach people in communication and influencing workshops the value of a thank you note. Not everyone thinks of this so just by saying thank you to someone you will make an impact, and many people write mostly to complain, so a positive note has a disproportionately positive effect. How many times you have thanked your IT department for something that worked?  But if you ever tried it you would find that you are at the top of the list when anything needs fixing.

Thank you notes are one of the most underrated tools for influencing people and at the same time the habit of sending them makes for a more positive workplace culture, but it's not enough to just send a thank you, it has to follow the three rules:

SEND THANK YOUS PROMPTLY. Send your thank you note as quickly as you can though not so quickly it looks creepy. The next working day or later the same day looks good. Sending one from your phone as soon as you have left a person looks strange, and waiting for weeks greatly discounts the value of the note. If you are planning to send a crisp handwritten note on paper send also an email so that the thanks arrive quickly, even if you wanted to send a more solid letter that someone will be proud of.

BE SPECIFIC AND CONCRETE. Don't just say Thank You or send a pre-printed card. Always say why you are thanking the person and why you value what they did. This is extremely important because without that information it makes no sense for someone to pin it to a board or share it with their boss. Your message should be clear and complete enough to be understood by someone who does not know all the details of the topic.

THANK PUBLICLY, CRITICIZE PRIVATELY Where possible don't make people have to forward thank yous to their boss. As a general rule send complaints just to the person involved but copy more widely when you are praising someone. A timely, clear thank you message that is also copied to someone's boss is much more effective than a private thank you.. This is also another reason why email thank yous are usually more effective than paper ones. You should also consider using a more public forum like Facebook, Twitter or your company's internal social media platform.

Many people believe that influencing skills are complex psychological techniques. Some are, but many look remarkably like the sort of common sense your grandparents could have taught you, but since common sense is so rare in practice the few that can master these techniques have an advantage over everyone else.

Cultural Note: Be careful to make the necessary changes to your thank you policy when you are working with people from other cultures. Some thank more than others and some consider too many notes like this to be a waste of time.

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Anonymous said…
Hi, very nice article. It is a key to make the difference. Proven.
If I may ask a question, in a context where we are expecting to get a colaboration with somebody, won't this "Thank you" provoke a feeling of somebody being creeper (lèche botte)?
Andrew Hennigan said…
No, not at all. To do it effectively your thanks have to be sincere, not just an automatic response. You must thank people for things that deserve thanks and also you should do it consistently, not just before you ask a favor.

If you are the sort of person who never says thank you and then suddenly says thank you for something just before asking for something it not only sounds like you are a creep, you are a creep.

It's good policy to also master the art of accepting thanks graciously. Not everyone can do this naturally.

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