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Obligation Versus Opportunity

Posted by Peter Post  November 27, 2012 07:00 AM

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The holiday season is fast approaching; and that means gift giving; and that, in turn, brings up the issue of thank-you notes. Each year I get asked, “Do I have to…?” and “To whom do I have to send one?”

The book on when a thank-you note should be sent is: Send one when you don’t have the opportunity to thank the giver in person. (The one exception is wedding gifts; a thank-you note should be sent for each wedding gift received whether or not it is opened in front of the giver.) One important reason for sending a note is to let the giver know you received it. In this day and age of on-line shopping and shipping of packages across the country, the gift may never have arrived. Yet without some acknowledgement, the giver is left in the quandary of wondering whether it arrived or if the recipient is just unappreciative.

There is also nothing wrong with following up the in-person “thank you” with a note. That’s where the difference between thinking of a thank you note as an obligation or as an opportunity comes in. As an obligation it’s something you have to do and therefore will be done only as absolutely necessary. But when thought of as an opportunity, the thank-you note becomes a way to build relationships through showing appreciation.

They’re not hard to do. Just three or four sentences written neatly on a note card and sent in the mail. Why mail them rather than email them? Because when the mailed note is received, it’s opened, read and then placed on a counter or desk or attached to a refrigerator with a magnet where the person sees it repeatedly and is reminded of you each time he or she sees it. But when emailed, it’s opened (if it’s not spam blocked), read, and then deleted. Ask yourself: “Would you rather be deleted or remembered?”

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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