Author Kelly Browne on the Importance of Writing Thank You Notes

Good graces.

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    Matt Garcia

We often associate the holiday season with gift giving, but etiquette expert Kelly Browne reminds us that the holidays should also be about expressing gratitude. The author of the new book 101 Ways to Say Thank You: Notes of Gratitude for Every Occasion has shared her advice in Parade and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. Kelly recently chatted with Ventura Blvd editor Linda Grasso about the art and importance of expressing gratitude for acts of kindness not only during the holidays but throughout the year. 

Why are thank-you notes important?

In this world of electronic communication, nothing lets people know how much you appreciate an act of kindness more than a personal, handwritten thank-you note. When we don’t acknowledge someone for their gift of generosity, it can cause hurt feelings. Studies have shown that when someone says thank you, it creates a chain reaction of kindness that promotes a cycle of gratitude. I call it the magic of gratitude.

What about making a positive first impression?

Always. Saying thank you reflects your character, and in business situations, the kind of employee you would be. Being gracious for someone’s gift of time, for giving you a leg up, or for a present, creates a positive impact. Good professional manners go a long way in life.

What are the parameters of a well-written thank-you note?

The classic handwritten thank-you note is on white or ecru paper using black or blue ink. Your note should be in your best penmanship and be conversational. Imagine what you would say in person. It’s a note with a few sentences, not a letter. Your choice of paper, stamps, and ink should reflect your personality and the occasion. 

Does it make a difference whether a thank-you note is written, emailed or texted? 

Yes. Social and formal events always call for the handwritten note. In business, emailing a thank-you note following interviews, deals, meals, or gifts is acceptable, but the handwritten note shows a stronger desire to make an impact. If you want to text someone to acknowledge a gift, fine. However, a text doesn’t have the same prestige as a mailed, handwritten thank-you. With loved ones, sending a text with a video of you or your child opening the gift is a lovely way to say thank you.

How does one make an emailed thank-you as gracious and heartfelt as a handwritten note? 

There are some benefits to email. When typing a note, you can review what you have written and polish it a bit. You can also attach a photo of yourself with the gift to make it more personal. In my new book, 101 Ways to Say Thank you for Every Occasion, I offer sample thank-you note templates you can copy or use for inspiration.

It bugs me when I mail someone a gift and they don’t take the time to text me that they’ve received it—much less write a thank-you. Thoughts?

When we have taken the time, love, and expense to buy someone a gift, the recipient should always thank us. If that person can’t take a minute to at least acknowledge it, I’d reconsider sending them a gift in the future.

I didn’t let my sons touch their Christmas gift money until the thank-yous were written. Other ideas?

I suggest sitting down with children on Thank-You Note Day, December 26, to write holiday notes. I created a thank-you note box with colorful cards, pens, crayons, stickers and fun postage stamps so my children have everything they need to write notes. 

What about when you’ve opened up a gift in the giver’s presence?

I think it is still a good idea to send a note. Even if it’s a close relationship and you feel it’s unnecessary, consider how good that person will feel receiving your note. In the digital era we live in, handwritten thank-you notes are extraordinary. 

What about sending a note of gratitude for no reason at all?

These are the most coveted thank-you notes of all. Holiday cards are a powerful opportunity to express love and gratitude to people who have touched our lives. They also create an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and perhaps even let go of hurt feelings. Or they can raise the possibility of renewing a relationship. One sentence filled with good intentions and written without expectation can change everything.