Power of the Hand Written Note

Blog Post created by mala.grewal Advocate on Sep 15, 2015

In the summer of 2012 I was training with my mother from Neuschwanstein Castle to Vienna on our highly anticipated Austrian adventure. I pulled out a stack of postcards and as I began writing, my mother asked whom I’d bought all these for. “For my 200 phone calls” I responded. That summer I’d taken the challenge of contacting 200 people in 8 weeks and asking for their support in pursuit of my career calling. I was instructed to begin with my parents, then good friends, and so on until my branches extended to those I’d never met. Part of the agreement was to formally thank each individual after our conversation. I committed to writing 200 thank you notes by hand (yes, by hand!), which meant, whether in the office or on vacation, I was doing it.

8 weeks later I’d spoken with executives, writers, engineers, coaches, and brilliant talent around the country. And while time consuming, writing every thank you note brought back the feelings of unanticipated respect I remembered when I hung up these phone calls – “Wow, I can’t believe how willing they are to help me.”

As my last week rolled around, I received an email in my inbox from an executive at TaylorMade Golf, who wrote:

"Receiving your personalized hand-written note, gives me hope that a generation of the so-called “entitled” has been miscast by society’s need to oversimplify in the name of avoiding nuance and ambiguity. Thanks for the boost of optimism.”

Whoa. Did this executive really believe our Millennial generation was unwilling to make the time to express gratitude? My hand written note had made this leader’s day. It struck me that perhaps my generation was disregarding a fundamental human experience - empathy. When one understands and shares the feelings of one another, expressing gratitude is an innate response. Clearly this leader had experienced enough interactions with Millennials to believe we were unwilling to make time for this shared opportunity.

Ironically, I believe we’re making leaps to do so in the digital world. Successful UX designers understand that user experience design in its purest form IS empathy. Donald Norman, renowned design and cognitive science expert and author of The Design of Everyday Things says, “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, it’s services, and it’s products”. In actuality, UX is a system of tools and practices for discovering and integrating empathy.

How well are we at translating our digital progression into our tangible interactions with one another?

What is others user experience of us?

My 200 thank you note experience taught me it was well worth it to create an individual culture of empathy. This week, take the time to work your empathy muscle. Here are some quick mental tips to help you in your routine:

  1. Look beyond you – this has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person
  2. Expect nothing in return – this isn’t about getting back, it’s about giving for giving’s sake
  3. Create a thank you culture – make expressing gratitude the “way you do things” in your human design

Like all good things, it will take committed time and discipline, but it will be well worth it when the gratitude is felt and the connection made.