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To Whom Should You Send an Actual Thank-you Note?

Posted by Peter Post  December 31, 2013 07:00 AM

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Holiday gifts have been given, received and opened. The mess of paper and ribbons has been cleaned up, and life is starting to get back to normal. But there’s one final step to be taken: the thank-you note to those from whom you received a gift.

So to whom should you send an actual thank-you note?

The easiest way to think about it is this: If you open a gift in front of the giver and thank the giver on the spot, then you have fulfilled your obligation and are not on the hook for having to write a thank-you note. If, on the other hand, the giver is not present when you open the gift, then a thank-you note is in order. In this case, not only are you expressing your appreciation, you are also letting the person know you did receive the gift. Not sending a thank-you note puts the giver in the awkward position of having to contact you to find out if the gift even arrived.

The real key to the “to write or not to write the thank-you note” dilemma is couched in the word “obligation” in the previous paragraph. Much too often we think of thank-you notes as something we have to do—a dreaded chore. Instead, think of the thank-you note as an opportunity to reach out and show your appreciation to someone who was thoughtful enough to give you a gift. The note itself doesn’t need to be long or involved—just three or four sentences will do very nicely; tuck it into an envelope, address it, stick a stamp on it, and mail it.

Email or through the US Postal service? Think of it this way. Amidst the bills and junk mail the recipient gets every day, your note will stand out. After the recipient reads it, she’ll put it down on a counter or desk or table where she’ll be reminded of you each time she sees it. An email, which may get stopped by a spam blocker or sent to a junk folder, will be opened, read, closed, and then deleted. Ask yourself: Would I rather my thanks be remembered or deleted?

One final suggestion: If you have children whom you are encouraging to write their notes, try making it a group activity and you write your thank-you notes right along with them. Provide the tools if needed—notecards, envelopes, pens, pencils, or crayons for the little ones. You’ll demonstrate to them that you hold yourself to the same standard that you’re asking them to meet.

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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