Whatever happened to thank you? Thoughts on gratitude

Thank you costs so little, means so muchSeveral months ago, a former student of mine, about to sit for the bar, asked me to write for him the letter of recommendation his application package required. Although at that time my schedule was hectic, I was happy to do so and accommodated his request, completing the letter and mailing it off to him well in advance of the bar deadline. I emailed him to let him know it was on its way.

Several weeks passed, and I heard nothing at all from my former student — not an email or phone call to let me know he’d received my letter. I grew concerned that the letter had gone astray and he had failed to receive it. Then, as the days passed, I became annoyed that he hadn’t acknowledged an effort undertaken on his behalf and at his request. At last I emailed him to ask if the letter had reached him. Yes, he wrote back, it came. And then, as an afterthought, he added, by the way, thanks.

His casual response disappointed me. I had taken time to reflect on my personal knowledge of him and his character and then draft with care a letter to help him achieve an important professional goal. Yet it never occurred to him to contact me to reassure me that my letter reached its destination and that he appreciated my help.

Expressing appreciation requires little effort yet means so much to the recipient. You can pick up the phone, send an email, even write a note. Yet failure to do so results in great cost. It saddens me that my former student has unthinkingly burned a bridge. It is unlikely now that I will ever send a client or business opportunity his way.

His carelessness made me think a lot about what “thank you” really means. It is not simply expressing gratitude for the extra mile, the care, the thought. “Thank you” is also about renewing or building relationships. “Thank you” honors a past deed. “Thank you” affirms hope for the future.

If someone gave you advice you asked for, put you in touch with people who could help you, referred you business, linked to your web site, made available resources so you could get something done, or otherwise did you a good deed, thank them. Although some (like gratitude’s fiercest champions, attorneys Dan Hull and Holden Oliver) would suggest a hand-written note (preferably on Crane’s stationery), others like me would say the message itself matters more than the medium in which it is delivered.

Just say it. Right now.

10 responses to “Whatever happened to thank you? Thoughts on gratitude

  1. So, in case I haven’t said it of late- thank you, Diane, for being a visionary in the field and an inspiration to me.

  2. Diane Levin

    Wow, Dina, so very good to hear from you. And thank you, right back at you. 🙂

    Incredible to stop to consider — you and I were among the early adapters of blogging in the ADR community — it’s pretty exciting to see where we all are now. Your influence has certainly counted here, as momentum builds and the ADR blogosphere expands.

    You’re an original, Dina!

  3. You know Diane, this is bang on.

    Last month I was contacted by a US mediator who I won’t name to see if I knew of a certain case report that he was interested in. I didn’t – it was an Australian case and although they look close on a map, Australia and New Zealand are distinct jurisdictions with our own bodies of law, 3 hours flying time apart.

    But wanting to oblige, I emailed a buddy of mine in Big Law in Sydney and pulled in a favour. He got his people on to it and they turned up the case. They emailed it to him, he emailed it to me and I emailed it to the US, taking the credit of course.

    Nothing. Nada. Not a sausage.

    So I waited a week or so. Still nothing.

    So I emailed ‘Did you get the case?’

    The reply? ‘Yes – thanks!” – nothing more.

    He’ll get nothing out of me in the future.

  4. Diane Levin

    I’m getting the sense that this post is really resonating with people. I’ve gotten some emails in response from folks saying stuff similar to what you’ve described here, Geoff.

    Sadly, this ungrateful former student is not an isolated case. I fear he’s part of an ever-increasing trend. I notice that very few of the many people who email me for help or information ever bother to thank me. It’s too bad — they evidently don’t appreciate what a small world the ADR community is — or what a long memory people like me have.

  5. Diane,

    Yep. I give a a fair few references, too. And hey! Yah! Now that you mention it, only a few write to say “thank you”! I wonder if it’s a kind of honour being taken for granted — something like parents. Which reminds me — I need to thank my parents for being the type who could be take for granted!


  6. Diane Levin

    You know, that’s an interesting way of reframing the problem, CM. Hmmm, maybe it is an honor to be taken for granted. (Nope. Definitely doesn’t feel that way. A nice “thank you” would feel much, much better.)

    Now that you mention it, I’ve got a long overdue call to my parents, too….

    Thanks for weighing in here!

  7. I would like to say “Thank You” for all those ungrateful people who have not. I do understand your point, being that I deal with people in the judicial system and the healthcare system also. Don’t give up, I’ve been told that I say thank you to much (how ridiculous).

  8. Gerrie, thank you for your comment. It sounds like you’ve had plenty of experience yourself dealing with institutional ingratitude. Good for you for ignoring those who think it’s possible to say “thank you” too often. It’s one of those things that don’t get said often enough.

  9. Diane,
    I came across your article, doing research on “giving thanks” – in general –and appreciated and identified with your story. Kids need to be taught to write “thank-you’s” – my mom drilled it into us – and now i appreciate the amount of work that takes – with our own kids. I’ve begun the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pillows – see website – to connect people together through listing and sharing their “thankfuls” – being thankful creates contentment.
    Something we all need. Thanks again.