Early in my tenure at HopeLab, during a particularly trying time, I came home to find a letter from our CEO. I opened it with great curiosity. Inside was a handwritten note on a gorgeous art card. The sentiment inside was heartfelt and encouraging. It caused me to pause and shift my perspective on the challenges we faced. Her note energized me and connected me more deeply to her and to our work. I’ve now taken on this practice and regularly send letters to colleagues, particularly to express appreciation.
Research by the Templeton Foundation has shown that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else. A sad statistic. I have found that a heartfelt letter to a colleague is a beautiful form of appreciation. It cultivates a high-quality connection, expresses compassion and allows them to feel “seen.”
The Templeton research has also found that the very act of crafting and expressing this gratitude also has a positive impact on the letter writer. With pen in hand, writing becomes a mindful exercise. Pausing to bring the receiver to mind, then paying attention to the formation of the words on the page to express a meaningful sentiment.
Why write a letter when you could more efficiently communicate the same sentiment via technology? There is something more meaningful to the art of letter writing than the practice of a text, instant message or email. There is an efficiency to social technology. The ease with which we can now communicate with each other is taken for granted. Yet, while I can write a lengthy message I often don’t, relying on the medium to relay a quick sentiment. These pings sustain a certain connection, but they don’t feel as meaningful.
I’ve experimented with different forms of letter writing at work and following is some advice:
- Be specific and use authentic language to describe how you’ve observed your colleague making a difference.
- Write as if you are talking to them; make it heartfelt and personal.
- Create a card from a fun photo of your colleague at work and use it for your letter.
- Tie your appreciation to a value that your organization holds dear, supporting the alignment of their contribution to the organization’s mission.
- Send the card or letter to their home.
In our busy world, the old school practice of letter writing can make a difference in the quality of your relationships and the experience of gratitude in your workplace culture. So take a break and try writing a letter or card to a colleague. I think both you and the receiver will be pleasantly surprised by the impact.