For a long time now, we have been sharing with you just how powerful the internet, social media, and the “electronics” with which we have surrounded ourselves have become, and the importance of engaging in all forms of social media to reach potential clients. What I want to share with you now is a bit anachronistic, but something even more powerful: The Power of the Pen, or more precisely, the power of the handwritten note. As we look for ways to stay connected in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, I must confess that there is still no better way to do it than with a written note. I have also found that there is nothing more personally rewarding for me than to take the time to compose and send a handwritten note and to then wait with anticipation for the inevitable response from the recipient.
Many years ago, my wife taught me the power associated with writing a note. After seeing the incredibly positive impact these notes made with the recipients I was hooked, if not out and out addicted. Over the years I have written thousands of such notes while improving business, church, and personal relationships. If you want to really distinguish yourself in the eyes of your centers of influence, strategic alliance partners, clients, and even your friends and family members, take the time to write a handwritten note. Despite access to either personalized cards and stationery or handmade cards from my wife, my biggest challenge: Keeping the notes legible. With each passing day, this challenge has become an ever more daunting task for me. Do not undo the good of the thought and the act by sending something that needs to be forensically deciphered.
Truth be told, sometimes writing the notes can be a chore. I began the practice of writing “pillow notes” of welcome for producers and managers who may be attending conferences with me. I can remember one national agent conference at which I wrote over seventy-five of these handwritten notes. I started writing them two weeks before the event and finished the last of them while seated on the plane bound for our conference venue. Having the hotel staff place them in the room of the recipient, often accompanied by a small token gift of esteem or “goodie bag” made attendance at the conference an experience for the recipients. On more than one occasion over the years, I have been told by these people that the note was the thing that they cared for the most.
After writing a couple dozen notes at the ILTCI conference a few years ago with only an occasional acknowledgement, the power of a handwritten note was reaffirmed for me a couple of weeks later with a friend of mine. With no ulterior motive, this gentleman went above and beyond the call of duty and performed what I considered a true tender mercy in going out of his way to do me a tremendous and unsolicited favor with the family history (genealogy) work in which I have been engaged. I was so touched by it that the next morning I arose early, and even before I went to work out I sat and penned a note expressing my heartfelt gratitude to him and popped it into the mail so that he would receive it at his home.
The next week when I again saw him, he was standing a little taller, his chest was a little bit more pronounced, and he had a smile on his face from ear to ear. He said that he had never received a note like mine, and that it would thereafter be a treasure to him. We have since collaborated on some projects and a friendship has taken root.
I know that professional associates and staff members with whom I have worked over the years have appreciated the notes and even saved them as “badges of honor,” decorating their office cubicles with them, and that clients have on occasion been genuinely overwhelmed by them as well. More than a perfunctory thank you note that some of us were taught to send after a successful interview that led to an application being submitted, I have always tried to prepare these notes to validate them and their decisions.
Writing any sort of correspondence by hand is going to be noticed by the recipient, especially when they are bombarded day in and day out by digital correspondence. Imagine their surprise and joy when they receive something that is handwritten and personalized to them. When was the last time you hand wrote a note? A posting on a Facebook account may be public praise for the recipient but misses the mark with what we are attempting to accomplish with a handwritten note. Emails do not count! Texts even less! I will go as far as to say that I have come to hate email, and the only thing worse than a poorly drafted email is a perfunctory text message, especially if it is chocked full of abbreviations.
Just last week I received a handwritten note in the mail, and just from the smooth script with which the envelope was addressed to me I knew who it was from, and my anticipation of the actual contents soon placed it in the same category as an unexpected early Christmas present. I was not disappointed after carefully opening the envelope.
I have had the lesson that taking a few minutes to send something personalized and handwritten carries a lot of weight with the recipient and reflects positively on you, the sender, reinforced repeatedly over the years. I have also learned that it is important to use quality stationary and to take your time so that you really do express the desired sentiment. Confidentially, I have been prone to even compose a draft of the note on a piece of scrap paper to avoid errors. I promise you that if you find the commitment to try this and allocate the modest time investment required of this endeavor, this effort will pay you huge dividends. Over the years I have found nothing with a greater return on investment than the time and effort associated with penning these notes. Try it this week because I know you will be more than pleased with the results.
Maya Angelou got it right when she said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Remember that co-workers, subordinates, bosses, clients, prospects, and particularly friends and family, are all people with feelings that need to be validated. Take the time to personalize and humanize all your communications for maximum results.
“The strokes of the pen need deliberation as much as the sword needs swiftness.”
—Julia Ward Howe
Over the years, I have learned that there are two great powers in this world; one is the sword, and the other is the pen. There is often a great competition between the two, but as we attempt to make sense of the violence and tumult in the world around us, I know that wars have never started because of a kind word penned in the proper spirit.
I am reminded of a passage in John Maxwell’s 25 Ways to Win with People:
“When you give people credit verbally, you uplift them for a moment. When you take the time to put it in writing you have the potential to uplift them for a lifetime.”
I cannot say that each of your notes are going to be as dramatic as what Mr. Maxwell confides, but I know that one of my prized possessions kept for more than forty years is a handwritten letter I received from one of my NCOs after I had left my unit in Germany thanking me for my leadership and personal investment in he and the rest of my assigned soldiers. The fact that he took the time to find an address for me at my follow-on assignment in the United States made it even more poignant to me.
Share a kind word or thought with someone you know today. It may be the difference in their having a good day or a bad day.