Best Practices – Expressing Gratitude in Written Communications

By Harry Waldron

Our best way to express appreciation is through direct one-on-one interaction.  However, time and distance are often challenging factors.  And we may also work remotely with talented professionals in distant countries.  Written communications can convey acknowledgement and appreciation, when it is impractical to be there in person.

The following techniques can help share affirmation and appreciation in our written communications:

  • EMAIL SIGNATURE LINE CHANGES – Many professionals have “Thank you” as a standard closure that is automatically included in their signature lines. However, when every email has the same appearance, there is a loss of effectiveness over time.  Instead, expressions of gratitude should be strategically integrated within the body of the message itself.  That shows genuine appreciation than the more common template approach.
  • START AN EMAIL WITH “THANK YOU” – This technique can immediately convey appreciation and start the communications off on a positive note. As an example, positive affirmation can be found in “Thank you for your assistance after hours in resolving a critical computer issue.  Your prompt response allowed issues to be quickly contained and resolved.”  Starting an email with those two words can help turn around even a negative situation – as in the example of “Thank you for your feedback as we further work together to resolve all current issues”.
  • TURN NEGATIVE THEME INTO A POSITIVE ONE – Not all things will go well on projects or in managing people. As a leader deals with tough issues, they should proofread their message carefully, looking for overuse of negatives words like “but”, “not” or “never” and reducing usage where possible.  For example, the message “we have never had an error that required a re-run of all reports” could be received negatively.  Instead, it might be better re-phrased as “All reports were promptly recreated, after team members quickly fixed a recent issue”.   When any difficult or negative situation arises, we can use the power of positive thinking to help turn things around.
  • AVOID TOO MUCH SELF-REFERENCING – As a guiding principle, reduce personal references to yourself, if they are too frequent. In a recent political speech for example, the work “I” appeared over 70 times.  As an example, a project manager might state “I re-adjusted the project plan, and our team responded well in completing these challenging objectives”.   A more team oriented way of re-phrasing this is to share:  “Our project team responded remarkably well in completing these challenging new business objectives”.   Screening for too much self-referencing is a good edit check – so that we can point more to others, rather than self in taking credit for a “job well done”.
  • PROOF READ FOR QUALITY & EFFECTIVENESS — When we place our thoughts in writing, that message becomes more official and permanent in nature.  Leaders should to spend a few minutes strategically planning how they can best share written communications in a positive manner.  Look for opportunities to help build a team’s morale, quality and effectiveness in working together.  It is important to highlight and affirm the team collectively as a whole, when possible.
  • THANK YOU CARDS – Sometimes an old fashioned approach of sending a “Thank You” card might be an effective form of appreciation to celebrate special project milestones. For example, at the conclusion of a project, a handwritten card is a thoughtful form of appreciation to each team member.  The project leader may even include a small $5 or $10 gift certificate to celebrate extraordinary accomplishments.

The Project Management profession consists of both technical and human disciplines.  Massive work efforts are organized to accomplish tasks efficiently, effectively, and on a timely basis.  The technical side consists of software and approaches to: identify business objectives, map out project tasks, define the critical path, and allocate project resources.

Grateful leadership provides a key source of assistance for the human challenges in Project Management.  It can improve productivity, motivation, and unity for the team, through verbal and written communications.  While not all “lemons will turn into lemonade” — a theme of gratitude will sweeten the team spirit and refresh hard working individuals striving to accomplish corporate goals.

Daily, we have numerous opportunities to share acknowledgement and gratitude in our written communications.  This applies both at work or home.   What we share in writing should be reflective of how we truly feel about ourselves and others.  And we should need to practice daily those concepts often, as we take on each new day with grateful hearts.